What Is Autoimmune Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects joints, causing pain, inflammation, and decreased mobility.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 2014
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Autoimmune arthritis is a form of arthritis which is caused by abnormalities in the immune system which lead the body to start attacking its own joints and connective tissue. Numerous different forms of arthritis are recognized, and many of these are autoimmune in nature. Some common examples of autoimmune arthritis are ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and juvenile arthritis. This condition can be quite debilitating and difficult to treat, especially if a patient allows the arthritis to progress for some time before seeking medical attention.

In autoimmune arthritis, the immune system identifies proteins which are naturally present in the body as antigens which require a response from the immune system. These proteins are attacked, leading to inflammation and pain. Over time, repeated immune attacks can lead to degeneration of joints and connective tissue, which can contribute to deformities such as twisted fingers or a bent spine. The patient usually experiences mobility problems in addition to chronic pain as a result of the inflammation.

In the early stages, autoimmune arthritis may be relatively mild, and the patient may not immediately realize that he or she has a problem. The joints may be sore, stiff, swollen, and tender to the touch, but especially in young people, these symptoms may not be addressed until they grow worse, as arthritis is often viewed as a condition which strikes primarily among the elderly. As the autoimmune arthritis progresses, pain can become chronic, and the joints may become impaired, leading the patient to seek medical treatment.

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Treatment usually involves the use of medications to combat the inflammation and dampen the immune response to that the joints have an opportunity to heal. The patient may also attend physical therapy sessions to gently strengthen and stretch the joints so that they retain flexibility and functionality. The treatment must be tailored to the form of arthritis the patient has, the severity, and the location. Ideally, some of the damage caused by the autoimmune arthritis will be reversed with treatment, and in other cases, the treatment can arrest or slow the degeneration.

The causes behind autoimmune disorders are not well understood. In some cases, they appear to be genetic in nature, with a family history of autoimmune disease increasing someone's risks of developing an autoimmune condition. In other instances, an autoimmune disorder may be more challenging to predict. Early treatment for such conditions is vital, as they will get progressively worse until treatment is offered, and they can cause severe degeneration and disability.

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Discuss this Article

ElizaBennett
Post 2

@Mrs Winslow - Yes, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. I have a cousin who has it, too. He's in his 20s now and his symptoms are almost gone. It sounds like your friend has a more serious case. It is not common for people with JRA to need joints replaced, but it's done if a particular joint has just been too badly damaged. Some people with JRA will get mostly better by adulthood, while others will have some pain their whole lives.

I have an interest in childbirth and C-sections, so I Googled your question about hip replacement and delivery. There are not a whole lot of women out there in that position, as you can imagine! It looks like a lot or most do have c-sections, but it's not an absolute must depending on other aspects of the person's condition.

MrsWinslow
Post 1

Is juvenile rheumatoid arthritis an autoimmune disease? An acquaintance of mine has this condition and I'm curious what her prognosis is. She had thought she might not be able to have children, but I guess she was wrong--I just saw on Facebook that she had a baby by C-section. She also had a hip replacement in her early 20s! Do a lot of people with JRA need joint replacement? Is that why she needed a C-section?

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