What is autoimmune arthritis?
Autoimmune arthritis is a type of arthritis in which the body’s immune system attacks it itself. Rheumatoid arthritis is by far the most common type of autoimmune arthritis. Inflammation in a joint happens when the immune system attacks the body. This can make you feel stiff and have trouble moving around. There are more than 100 different kinds of arthritis, and the symptoms of each kind are different. Most people with autoimmune arthritis have RA or psoriatic arthritis (PsA). This article takes a closer look at autoimmune arthritis, naming some of the most common symptoms and describing some of the current treatments for joint inflammation caused by arthritis.
Types of arthritis caused by the immune system
This list is not complete, but it does include some of the most common types.
- RA: RA is the most common type of arthritis caused by an immune system problem. It usually causes pain and swelling in the hands, feet, and wrists. There are about 1.3 million people with RA in the U.S., and 75% of them are women.
- Spondylarthritis is the name for a group of conditions that affect the spine and joints and are linked to arthritis. Ankylosing spondylarthritis, axial spondylarthritis, reactive arthritis, PsA, and enteropathy arthritis are some of the most common types.
- Juvenile arthritis: About 300,000 children in the U.S. has juvenile arthritis. It can lead to pain in the joints, redness in the eyes, fever, and rashes. It is also known as juvenile RA, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and juvenile chronic arthritis.
- Palindromic rheumatism is a rare form of arthritis that causes pain and swelling around the joints. Palindromic arthritis usually affects the fingers, wrists, and knees, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and fever, among other symptoms.
- Each of these conditions can make the joints feel very painful and swell up.
Autoimmune arthritis signs and symptoms
Some of the general signs and symptoms of autoimmune arthritis are:
- pain in the joints
Different kinds of autoimmune arthritis have different signs and symptoms.
For example, PsA can cause a condition called enthesitis, which makes the spots where ligaments and tendons attach to bones sore. This sign usually shows up in the back of the heel and near the elbow.
Risk Factor of autoimmune arthritis
Experts think that a person’s genes can affect whether or not they get autoimmune arthritis. But the other things that make you more likely to get autoimmune arthritis depend on the type of arthritis you have. For example, some research shows that gum disease, which is also called periodontal disease, may be linked to a higher risk of heart disease. It could also be because of things in the environment.
Some of the things that could cause autoimmune arthritis are:
- Exposure to toxins, like those in cigarette smoke, early in life
- Depending on the type of arthritis, a person’s sex may sometimes change how likely they are to get it. For instance, RA is two to three times more likely to happen to women than to men.
Diagnosis of autoimmune arthirtis
Autoimmune arthritis is treated by doctors who are called rheumatologists.
Rheumatologists are doctors who study the immune system and know about all the treatments that can help. If a doctor thinks someone has an autoimmune type of arthritis, they will usually send them to a rheumatologist. A doctor will first ask a person about their symptoms, including what makes them worse and what, if anything, makes them better. They may ask if the person has any other health problems and what medicines they are taking. A person’s doctor will probably suggest a number of tests to learn more about their health and figure out which joints are affected.
Some ways to find out if someone has autoimmune arthritis are:
- Imaging scans, like X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and musculoskeletal ultrasounds, to find damaged joints.
- Blood tests, like red blood cell count, rheumatoid factor, antibodies to certain peptide types, and markers of inflammation, like erythrocyte sedimentation rates and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels.
- Tissue samples, which doctors can use to confirm underlying conditions, like psoriasis.
- But no one test can tell for sure what kind of autoimmune arthritis someone has.
- Usually, a person has to go through a number of tests to rule out other conditions and different kinds of arthritis.
When making a treatment plan for autoimmune arthritis, a doctor will look at the person’s symptoms, the type of arthritis they have, and their overall health.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help some people with mild forms of arthritis that is caused by an autoimmune disease. Ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen are two of these (Aleve). For other kinds of arthritis, a doctor may give you disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
Here are some examples of DMARDs:
sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) methotrexate (Rheumatrex) leflunomide (Arava) hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, including baricitinib (Olumiant), tofacitinib (Xeljanz), and upadacitinib (Rinvoq)
If DMARDs don’t work to treat autoimmune arthritis, a doctor may prescribe “biologic agents” or “biological response modifiers.” These medicines stop the immune system from talking to other parts of the body, which can cause the symptoms of autoimmune arthritis.
Here are some examples of biological
- abatacept (Orencia) tocilizumab (Actemra)
- rituximab (Rituxan), tumour necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors like etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade), adalimumab (Humira), certolizumab pegol (Cimzia), and golimumab (Simponi), interleukin-17 inhibitors like secukinumab (Cosentyx), interleukin-23 inhibitors (Skyrizi)
- A person may sometimes take these medicines along with DMARDs, especially methotrexate.
Some side effects of medicines can cause problems on their own. Immunosuppressants like DMARDs and biologics, for example, can make people more likely to get sick.
Changes in lifestyle
A doctor will likely suggest changes to a person’s lifestyle and choices that can help a person with an autoimmune disorder, like autoimmune arthritis.
Some ways to deal with autoimmune types of arthritis are listed below.
- Getting regular exercise: Some types of physical activity can help improve the range of motion in the joints. Walking, water aerobics, and other aerobic exercises that are easy on your joints are especially helpful.
- If you want to stop smoking: many kinds of autoimmune arthritis can be made worse by smoking.
- Eating a diet that is well-balanced: A healthy diet can help people keep their weight at a healthy level, which puts less pressure on painful joints.
- Trying to go to sleep at the same time every night: Flares and other symptoms may get worse when you don’t get enough sleep.
- A person with autoimmune arthritis should also talk to a doctor about what else they can do to improve their overall health.