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Autoimmune Diseases and RA

What Happens When You Have RA?

The immune system turns its attack against a membrane that lines the joints. This can cause joint pain, warmth, swelling, and stiffness. RA can also affect other parts of your body, such as your eyes, mouth, or lungs.

Fatigue and depression are also common with rheumatoid arthritis. A recent AARDA survey of nearly 8,000 people with autoimmune diseases found that fatigue was a No. 1 issue for patients, Ladd says. This type of fatigue keeps half of people with an autoimmune disease from having a job, and that often leads to depression. More study is needed to understand what role fatigue plays in these disorders.

What Triggers Autoimmune Diseases Like RA?

That's still not clear. But researchers are making progress. They’ve spotted a few key "actors" and some with smaller roles.

As with other chronic diseases like heart disease, it’s likely not just one culprit. Many things work together to raise your risk.

“This includes your family’s inherited genetic risk factors,” says John A. Peyman, PhD, program officer in the autoimmunity branch of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). “It also includes your personal environment and the way you live your life.”

The genetics of RA. One gene has been linked with most autoimmune diseases, Peyman says. It’s called human leukocyte antigen (HLA).

Also, “200 other genes contribute a tiny bit to the chance of getting RA,” he says.

So what happens if you inherit one of the genes?

You may be more likely to get an autoimmune disease than the average person. An infection or something else could trigger inflammation inside your body that leads to the disease, Peyman says.

Other influences. What happens to you in life may play a role in whether you get one of these disorders.Studies in twins suggest that the environment may play an even bigger role in who gets these diseases than genes, Ladd says.

Research is also showing how inflammation is part of what can start an autoimmune disease, Peyman says.

For example, researchers are studying super-tiny living things called microbes in your gut, mouth, and on your skin. They may work more closely with the immune system than people thought, Ladd says. If they're out of balance, it may trigger your immune system and make more inflammation.

Other possible triggers include too much sun, pesticides, and smoking, she says. Hormones also likely play a role, since autoimmune diseases are much more common in women than in men.

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