Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's tissues. While it mainly erodes your joints, it is a systemic disease that can manifest throughout your body. With the potential to affect other parts of the body such as the skin, lungs, and heart, this condition can range from mild to severe.
An important distinction is that rheumatoid arthritis is completely different from osteoarthritis. The latter type of arthritis results from wear and tear of the joints. In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease where your immune system attacks and damages your joints.
As an ongoing condition that progresses throughout life, treatment is critical to prevent worsening and maintain a good quality of life.
Pathophysiology and Risk Factors
Doctors do not know what causes your immune system to attack your joints. However, they believe there are a few factors that may contribute to developing rheumatoid arthritis. These include:
- Gender - Women are more likely to develop this condition than men due to hormonal differences.
- Family History - There is likely a genetic component to rheumatoid arthritis.
- Alcohol and tobacco use - People who use these substances in excess have higher levels of inflammatory cytokines than people who don't drink or use tobacco (or use them in moderation). These cytokines can increase immune system activity.
- Excess weight - Fat tissue releases cytokines that can increase immune activity.