Put simply, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints. An autoimmune disease is defined as a disease that can not distinguish healthy bodily tissues from harmful foreign substances. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that is capable of producing systemic problems (when the disease affects organs of the body).
The Immune System: What is it?
The immune system is the body's defense system. It is the collection of mechanisms that the body uses to protect and fight against foreign disease causing substances. The immune system is capable of detecting various foreign particles. Additionally, the immune system is capable of making certain adaptations and retains memory of previous infections.
Immunogens, also known as antigens, are the molecules known to be recognized by the immune system for the stimulation of an immune response. Antigens are typically polysaccharides or proteins located on the surface of cells and the outside of viruses, bacteria, and many other disease causing microorganisms. It has been proposed that autoimmune disorders are caused by the failure of the immune system to recognize normal antigens or from the mutation of normal antigens. However, more research is necessary to support these preliminary findings.
Immunoglobins, also known as antibodies, are proteins located within the blood that are utilized by the immune system for the detection, neutralization, and destruction of foreign substances. When an antibody recognizes a foreign antigen, it is either marked with a tag for attack and destruction by the immune system, or is directly neutralized by the antibody itself.
The causes of autoimmune disorders remain highly unknown. However, parts of the mechanisms by which autoimmune disorders function are known. Autoimmune disorders are distinguished by the inability of the body to distinguish healthy bodily tissues from foreign substances. There are many autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis. A short list of a few of these autoimmune disorders includes:
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Grave's disease
- Crohn's disease
- Diabetes mellitus (Type 1)
- Sjogren's syndrome
- Myasthenia gravis
- Optic neuritis
- Pernicious anemia
- Celiac disease
Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Autoimmune Disease
Rheumatoid arthritis is only one example of an autoimmune disease. It is typically limited to the inflammation and swelling of the joints, but is capable of affecting organs if it becomes systemic. It is a chronic disease that most commonly affects joints of the feet, fingers, and wrists. It is accompanied with symptoms of fatigue, pain, and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis is typically diagnosed by a physician. There are many treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis, all of which should be researched (education is the first step to solving any problem) and discussed with your physician.
Approximately 80% or more individuals that have rheumatoid arthritis will test positive for what is known as rheumatoid factor. Rheumatoid factor is a natural immunoglobin (antibody) located within the blood. Rheumatoid factor is not commonly found in healthy individuals, but increases with age and the presence of rheumatoid arthritis. It is possible for your physician to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis by performing a blood test to determine the amount of rheumatoid factor in the blood.