Autoimmune diseases are a category of conditions where an individual's immune system goes into overdrive and becomes abnormally over-active, attacking and destroying healthy tissues by mistake. Many known and unknown triggers can cause an individual's body to start making components referred to as antibodies. Usually, antibodies help the body fight off infections, but in patients with an autoimmune disease, they attack the body's healthy tissues instead. Diagnoses of autoimmune diseases are made with the use of physical examination, thorough medical history, tests on the blood, tests on the urine, and tissue biopsies. Treatment for individuals affected by autoimmune diseases focuses on reducing the activity of the immune system, preventing complications, and management of symptoms that may interfere with an individual's everyday life.
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Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder characterized by the production of certain antibodies in the immune system that inappropriately attack the synovial membrane and synovial fluid in the joints. The synovium is the group of structures that sit between where two or more bones meet at a mobile joint. The function of the synovium is to keep the area lubricated and cushioned so the bones and cartilage do not become damaged from friction and normal use. When an individual's immune system produces specially programmed antibodies that attack these synovial tissues, the joint becomes swollen, inflamed, stiff, and painful. Rheumatoid arthritis will affect an individual's smaller joints first, like those that attach the toes to the feet and the fingers to the hands. Rheumatoid arthritis progresses to affect the knees, wrists, ankles, hips, shoulders, and elbows. Imaging tests like x-rays, ultrasound, and MRIs can help diagnose and evaluate the progress of rheumatoid arthritis.
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