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Home Health Disease Health Rheumatoid Arthritis
About Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that results in a chronic, systemic inflammatory disorder that may affect many tissues and organs, but principally attacks flexible (synovial) joints. It can be a disabling and painful condition, which can lead to substantial loss of functioning and mobility if not adequately treated.

The process involves an inflammatory response of the capsule around the joints (synovium) secondary to swelling (turgescence) of synovial cells, excess synovial fluid, and the development of fibrous tissue (pannus) in the synovium. The pathology of the disease process often leads to the destruction of articular cartilage and ankylosis (fusion) of the joints. RA can also produce diffuse inflammation in the lungs, the membrane around the heart (pericardium), the membranes of the lung (pleura), and white of the eye (sclera), and also nodular lesions, most common in subcutaneous tissue. Although the cause of RA is unknown, autoimmunity plays a big part, and RA is a systemic autoimmune disease. It is a clinical diagnosis made on the basis of symptoms, physical exam, radiographs (X-rays) and labs.

joints

Arthritis of joints involves inflammation of the synovial membrane. Joints become swollen, tender and warm, and stiffness limits their movement. With time, multiple joints are affected (it is a polyarthritis). Most commonly involved are the small joints of the hands, feet and cervical spine, but larger joints like the shoulder and knee can also be involved.

Skin

The rheumatoid nodule, which is sometimes cutaneous, is the feature most characteristic of RA. It is a type of inflammatory reaction known to pathologists as a "necrotizing granuloma". The initial pathologic process in nodule formation is unknown but may be essentially the same as the synovitis, since similar structural features occur in both.

Lungs

Fibrosis of the lungs is a recognized response to rheumatoid disease. It is also a rare but well recognized consequence of therapy (for example with methotrexate and leflunomide).

Kidneys

Renal amyloidosis can occur as a consequence of chronic inflammation. RA may affect the kidney glomerulus directly through a vasculopathy or a mesangial infiltrate but this is less well documented (though this is not surprising, considering immune complex-mediated hypersensitivities are known for pathogenic deposition of immune complexes in organs where blood is filtered at high pressure to form other fluids, such as urine and synovial fluid

Heart and blood vessels

People with RA are more prone to atherosclerosis, and risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) and stroke is markedly increased. Other possible complications that may arise include: pericarditis, endocarditis, left ventricular failure, valvulitis and fibrosis.

Constitutional symptoms

Constitutional symptoms including fatigue, low grade fever, malaise, morning stiffness, loss of appetite and loss of weight are common systemic manifestations seen in patients with active RA.

Osteoporosis

Local osteoporosis occurs in RA around inflamed joints. It is postulated to be partially caused by inflammatory cytokines. More general osteoporosis is probably contributed to by immobility, systemic cytokine effects, local cytokine release in bone marrow and corticosteroid therapy.

Lymphoma

The incidence of lymphoma is increased in RA, although it is still uncommo

Causes

RA is a form of autoimmunity, the causes of which are still not completely known. It is a systemic (whole body) disorder principally affecting synovial tissues. There is no evidence that physical and emotional effects or stress could be a trigger for the disease. The many negative findings suggest that either the trigger varies, or that it might in fact be a chance event inherent with the immune response.

Half of the risk for RA is believed to be genetic. It is strongly associated with the inherited tissue type major histocompatibility complex (MHC) antigen HLA-DR4 (most specifically DR0401 and 0404), and the genes PTPN22 and PADI4—hence family history is an important risk factor

Pathophysiology

The key pieces of evidence relating to pathogenesis are the following:

A genetic link with HLA-DR4 and related allotypes of MHC Class II and the T cell-associated protein PTPN22.
An undeniable link to the pathogenesis of vascular disease of many types, including the possibility of a strong causal connection to rheumatoid vasculitis, a typical feature of this condition.
A remarkable deceleration of disease progression in many cases by blockade of the cytokine TNF (alpha).
A similar dramatic response in many cases to depletion of B lymphocytes, but no comparable response to depletion of T lymphocytes.
A more or less random pattern of whether and when predisposed individuals are affected.
The presence of autoantibodies to IgGFc, known as rheumatoid factors (RF), and antibodies to citrullinated peptides (ACPA).
Initial site of disease is synovial membrane
Women (30 to 50 years) are more commonly affected.

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