Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of inflammatory arthritis and an autoimmune disease. For reasons no one fully understands, in rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system-which is designed to protect our health by attacking foreign cells such as viruses and bacteria-instead attacks the body's own tissues, specifically the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints. As a result of the attack, fluid builds up in the joints, causing pain in the joints and inflammation that's systemic -- meaning it can occur throughout the body.
Rheumatoid arthritis is due to an overactive immune system. Both diseases have inflammation in common, which may explain the connection. Inflammation is a protective immune system response to substances like viruses and bacteria. In autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system mistakenly triggers inflammation, although there are no viruses or bacteria to fight off. The inflammation causes joints to become swollen, painful and stiff.
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