Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, which means it is caused by the body’s immune system attacking itself. However, it is not yet known what triggers this.
Normally, your immune system makes antibodies that attack bacteria and viruses, helping fight infection. But if you have rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system mistakenly sends antibodies to the lining of your joints, where they attack the tissue surrounding the joint.
This causes the thin layer of cells (synovium) covering your joints to become sore and inflamed.
This inflammation in turn causes chemicals to be released that thicken the synovium and damage nearby:
If the condition is not treated, these chemicals gradually cause the joint to lose its shape and alignment and, eventually, can destroy the joint completely.
Various theories of why the immune system starts to attack the joints have been suggested, including that an infection or virus may trigger this, but none of these theories has been proven.
There are a number of things that may increase your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, including:
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