What is Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating and painful illness.  Because it affects the body joints, it can have a severe impact on the person’s quality of life.  While doctors are not sure exactly what causes rheumatoid arthritis, they do know it is an autoimmune disease.  Autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system malfunctions, made up of organs, specialized cells, and antibodies.  The immune system acts as a body’s defense.  When a foreign substance such as a virus or bacteria invades the body, the immune system response by bringing in its defenses and eliminating the intruder.  But in people with autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system turns on itself, for reasons doctors don’t completely understand.  When this occurs, otherwise, healthy parts of the body come under attack.  In cases of rheumatoid arthritis, the faulty immune system targets the tissue another material that makes up our joints.  Rheumatoid arthritis typically begins in hands and feet causing inflammation and pain and eventually, destroying the joints themselves.  A joint is made up of several parts, first there is the cartilage, which covers the end of each bone, and it provides the smooth surface that allows the bones to move against one another without friction.  Surrounding the cartilage there is a membrane called synovium.  The synovium produces a thick oil-like fluid that lubricates the joint.  Supporting the synovium is a tough outer layer ligament, these holds the bones in place and protects them from moving too far in the wrong direction.  In people with rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the tissues in the joints, when this occurs; antibodies defend cells and fluids swum around the effected site causing the joints to swell.  Overtime, this could lead to stiffness, loss of mobility, and pain.  Rheumatoid arthritis can vary in acuteness from person to person.  Some people only experience swelling of the synovium and simply feel the stiffness common to all arthritis sufferers.  In about 10 to 20% of Rheumatoid arthritis patients, the disease goes in to remission in the early stages, or never develops beyond a mild case and in about 1 in 10 Rheumatoid arthritis patients will experience severe joint damage due to cartilage and bone decay.  If left untreated, permanent disfigament can result.  In some Rheumatoid arthritis patients, the malfunctioning immune system can also target some organs in the body, such as the eyes and lungs as well as the membranes in around the heart.  Damage typically results from inflammation of the blood vessels supplying the organ or inflammation of the organ tissue itself.  The causes of rheumatoid arthritis are still unclear, but knowing how it affects your body and understand your treatment options can go long way toward helping you live with this disease.