RA is one of about 80 different types of autoimmune diseases. After cancer and heart disease, autoimmune diseases are the most common type of disease in the U.S., affecting 50 million Americans. Women make up nearly eight out of every 10 people with an autoimmune disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis is systemic, which means it affects your whole body, not just your joints. It can leave you feeling vaguely unwell and tired. Sometimes people with RA say they feel like they're getting over the flu. They're tired, draggy. Does this sound like you? It's hard to live with the fatigue of RA, but there are some things you can do.
Are you beating yourself up for feeling fatigued?
You can't always control or predict RA fatigue. It exists, and sometimes you need to take some...
What is the common link between autoimmune diseases? And how does autoimmunity lead to rheumatoid arthritis? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is the Immune System?
To understand autoimmune diseases such as RA, it helps to know how the immune system normally works. Its most important job is protecting your body against foreign “invaders,” such as bacteria and viruses. White blood cells are the agents of the immune system. The immune system works in two main ways. It either directly attacks foreign invaders or it produces proteins called antibodies that attack the intruders.
“Normally, the choreography of this interaction between the white blood cells works very well,” says John A. Peyman, PhD, program officer in the clinical immunology branch of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
He tells WebMD that the body can tell what is a threat and what isn’t. When you have a cut on your finger, for example, you may end up with a small infection caused by germs that enter the wound. This prompts a type of immune response known as inflammation -- often marked by redness, swelling, heat, and pain. Then the immune system’s white blood cells heal the wound and remove the infection.
What Are Autoimmune Diseases?
With an autoimmune disease like RA, however, something goes awry. The white blood cells overreact to stimuli inside the body. Instead of protecting the body from infection or disease as it normally does, the immune system attacks and destroys the body’s healthy tissue. It does this by producing antibodies against the body’s tissue. This is called autoimmunity.