Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that causes inflammation in the joints and certain other organs throughout the body. It is called an autoimmune disorder. It is believed that the body’s immune system accidentally mistakes its own tissues for foreign invaders. The immune system attacks the joints and organs, causing damage.
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Researchers are not sure what causes the immune system to respond so destructively. It may be caused by a combination of factors, including:
- Genes—People with rheumatoid arthritis may have a specific genetic defect that increases their risk for developing this condition.
- Defects in the immune system may cause the immune cells to fail to recognize the body’s own tissues.
- Infection with specific viruses or bacteria that kick off an abnormal immune response.
However, so far no infection has been found.
- Chemical or hormonal imbalances in the body.
1.5 million Americans (about 1% of the adult population) have rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Foundation website. Available at:
http://www.arthritis.org/conditions-treatments/disease-center/rheumatoid-arthritis. Accessed July 24, 2013.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
website. Available at:
http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp. Updated April 2009. Accessed July 24, 2013.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated July 2, 2013. Accessed July 24, 2013.
Who gets RA? Arthritis Foundation website. Available at:
http://www.arthritistoday.org/about-arthritis/types-of-arthritis/rheumatoid-arthritis/who-gets-ra-and-why/who-gets-ra/how-do-you-get-ra.php. Accessed July 24, 2013.
Last reviewed June 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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