(1) An autoimmune disease which causes chronic inflammation of the joints, the tissue around the joints, as well as other organs in the body. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body tissues are mistakenly attacked by its own immune system. The immune system is a complex organization of cells and antibodies designed normally to “seek and destroy” invaders of the body, particularly infections. Patients with these diseases have antibodies in their blood which target their own body tissues, where they can be associated with inflammation. Because it can affect multiple other organs of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a systemic illness and is sometimes called rheumatoid disease. While rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic illness (meaning it can last for years) patients may experience long periods without symptoms.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a major risk factor for heart attack as a study of 114,000 women indicated. The risk of a heart attack in women with rheumatoid arthritis was double that of other women.