It’s time for a pop quiz. What do Type 1 diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), multiple sclerosis and Grave’s Disease all have in common?
One of them affects blood sugar, another joints. One affects the spinal cord and brain and the last one makes the thyroid go into overdrive.
Have you figured it out yet? All of these diseases are different but at the same time, they all have one thing in common. They are all autoimmune diseases.
In fact, there are more than 80 different autoimmune diseases and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is only one of them.
After heart disease and cancer, autoimmune diseases happen to be the most prevalent type in the entire US. They affect more than 50 million people.
Out of that number, 80% of people who suffer from an autoimmune disease are women.
So, what is the link between all of these diseases? How does autoimmunity lead to something like Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)? Keep reading and you will find the information you are looking for.
The Immune System Defined
Before you can understand Rheumatoid Arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, it is helpful to have an understanding of how a healthy immune system works.
Basically, the immune system is the military of the body. It protects the body from foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. White blood cells are the soldier cells. They attack any foreign invader.
The immune system basically works in two different ways. One way is to send the soldier cells to attack the invaders directly. The other way is to produce special proteins that will do the attacking.
Generally, the choreography of all of this in the body works extremely well. The body knows what is not a threat and what is.
For example, say you get a paper cut on your finger. Germs that get in through the wound may cause there to be a small infection. Immediately, there is a response in the body that is an immune response.
This response will generally be inflammation that is characterized by swelling, redness pain and heat. The white blood cells (soldier) cells are causing this.
It is a sign that they are fighting off the invaders known as germs. As the battle is fought and being won by the soldier cells, the infection will be eliminated and the wound will heal.
Autoimmune Diseases Defined
When you have an autoimmune disease such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, something goes wrong. The soldier cells in the body are more of a rogue group.
They react to things inside the body instead of being the protection against diseases and infections as they are supposed to.
Instead, they attack and destroy healthy tissue in the body. The way that it accomplishes this is by producing antibodies that go against the tissues in the body. This is known as autoimmunity.
If the autoimmune disease is one that affects many of the organs in the body such as Lupus does, it is call systemic autoimmune disease.
When it only affects one type of tissue or organ as in diabetes, it is called a localized autoimmune disease.
Various autoimmune diseases can and do cluster in what are called families and they can and do affect any and every single organ in the entire body.
When this happens, there can be abnormal changes in the function of the affected organ(s) or even abnormal growth.
There are some similarities that have been noted between allergies and autoimmune diseases. They both have a negative reaction on the body.
With autoimmune diseases, the body is fighting against itself though.With allergies, the body is fighting an outside invader such as pollen, dander or dust.
Have you ever really looked at the hands of a person who suffers from RA? In early stages, there is not much outward indicators.
As the disease progresses there will start to be very visible signs. While you will not need an X-ray to see the signs, they do show up quite clearly in them.
RA is a very debilitating disease. It doesn’t matter if it is an autoimmune disease or not, when you have a condition such as RA, your life begins to change dramatically…and not in a good way.
There is pain…daily, excruciating and a lot of it. You should see a doctor as soon as you notice pain in your joints to make sure that you catch RA early while there are still things that may help stave it off for a while.