What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease; this means that your immune system attacks other parts of your body resulting in redness, pain, swelling or a hot feeling in the lining of a joint, the place where two or more bones come together. This redness, pain, swelling, and heat around the joint are called inflammation. The inflammation may also affect other internal organs such as the eyes, lungs or heart, but the most common places are the hands or feet. The body’s immune system attacks healthy joints that cause inflammation in the lining of the joints. This inflammation can be painful and can lead to permanent damage if the disease is not treated and controlled. Joint damage can occur even where the pain is not severe. Sometimes it may be too late to fix the problem by the time X-rays discover them. Severe damage can lead to permanent joint deformity or disability. In more stern cases, the pain and the swelling may cause difficulty in walking and you may have trouble using your hands for movements, such as dressing and cooking.

What causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

What causes rheumatoid arthritis is still unknown, though much has been learned about the process leading to this disease, researchers are yet to discover what leads to these abnormal responses of the body’s immune system. One established theory to what causes rheumatoid arthritis is that a combination of factors triggers this disease, including an abnormal autoimmune response, genetic susceptibility, and some environmental or biological triggers, such as viral infection or hormonal changes.

• Abnormal Autoimmune Response

The inflammatory process is a result of the body’s immune system, which fights infection and heals wounds and injuries; this is the normal immune system response. When an injury or an infection take place, white blood cells gather together to rid the body of any foreign proteins, such as a virus.  The gathering of blood cells at the injured or infected area produce factors to repair wounds, clot the blood, and fight any infective agents, during this process the surrounding area becomes inflamed and some healthy tissues are damaged.  In normal conditions, the immune system has other factors that control and limit this inflammatory process.

The primary infection-fighting elements are two types of white blood cells called lymphocytes and leukocytes.  Lymphocytes have two subtypes known as T-cells and B-cells, both cells designed to recognize foreign invaders (antigens) and to start an offensive and defensive action against them. B-cells produce separate anti-bodies that can either ride along with B-cells or travel on their own to attack the antigen.  T-cells have special receptors attached to their surfaces that recognize a specific antigen. This type of cell can be further categorized as killer T-cells and helper T-cells.  Killer T-cells directly attack antigens that occur in any cells that contain nucleus while helper T-cells have two roles; they stimulate B-cells and other white cells to attack the antigen and they also produce cytokines, a powerful immune factor that has an important role in the inflammatory process.

The action of the helper T-cells is of special awareness in what causes rheumatoid arthritis. For some unknown reason, the T-cells become overactive in rheumatoid arthritis mistaking the body’s own collagen as an antigen and triggering a series of immune responses to destroy the false enemy. The leukocytes, another major white blood cell in the body, are also prompted into action by the overwhelming T-cells; these leukocytes stimulate the production of key players in the inflammatory process that in excessive amounts becomes a damaging substance and may play a major destructive role in rheumatoid arthritis.

• Genetic Susceptibility

Genetic factors may play some role in what causes rheumatoid arthritis, however, studies suggest that it is not necessarily passed on from generation to generation, although the presence of genes that influence the tendency of rheumatoid arthritis may worsen the disease process.  It should be pointed out that defective genes not only can be inherited but not all who inherit the gene will develop the disease, it may be mutated by environmental or other factors. This theory needs more research to determine specific genetic contributions as a factor that causes rheumatoid arthritis.

• Environmental Triggers

Infections are being said to be an environmental trigger that causes rheumatoid arthritis, although bacteria and viruses have been studied, no single organism has been proven to be the primary trigger for the autoimmune response and successive damaging inflammation.

A number of chemicals are being studied as triggers or causes of rheumatoid arthritis-like silica which was linked with rheumatoid arthritis in a 2003 study. Other chemicals are still under investigation but are still very difficult to determine the causal effects of any specific chemical.



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