Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) Glossary
Autoimmune disease—A kind of disease where the body's immune system doesn't work the way it should. Instead of only providing protection from harmful events, such as infections, the immune system attacks the body as well. Examples of autoimmune diseases are RA and lupus.
Biologic DMARD (disease modifying antirheumatic drug)—The newest type of medicine to treat the signs and symptoms of RA. These drugs block the action of certain substances in the body and may be able to slow down the progression of RA. Biologic DMARDs are produced from living cells.
Cytokines—Substances in the blood that communicate with white blood cells. Some of these cytokines organize the attack on infections, which results in inflammation. When the immune system is working normally, the attack is ended once the infection has been fought off. However, people with RA have levels of certain cytokines that are too high. It's this constant inflammation that causes the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Major cytokines that play a role in RA are TNF (tumor necrosis factor), IL-1 (interleukin 1) and IL-6 (interleukin 6).
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)—A blood test doctors use to help diagnose RA. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) measures inflammation by seeing how long it takes red blood cells to fall to the bottom of a test tube filled with blood. The red blood cells generally fall faster in people with inflammation than in those without. The test can't diagnose RA by itself, but about 60% of people with a high ESR do have RA.
Family doctor—A doctor whose practice is not limited to any specific branch of medicine or class of diseases. These doctors can also be called a general practitioner, family practitioner or primary care physician.
Gout—A condition sometimes confused with RA. High amounts of uric acid, a waste product in the body, form crystals in the joints. In people with this condition, the body isn't able to get rid of the extra uric acid. These crystals lead to inflammation and extreme pain, often in the big toe. More common in men than women.
IL-1—An abbreviation for interleukin 1. Interleukins are also cytokines. IL-1 is a cytokine that plays a role in the immune system. People with RA have too much IL-1 in their systems, which is a factor in inflammation.
Immune system—A complex collection of organs and cells that protect the body from foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses. In people with RA, the immune system becomes too active and starts to harm the body as well.
Lupus—A condition sometimes confused with RA. It causes pain and inflammation in the muscles and joints. Also called systemic lupus erythematosus. Lupus can damage organs such as the kidney. People with Lupus may also have joint pain and a certain skin rash.
NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug)—A type of medicine that relieves the pain and inflammation. Some NSAIDs are available over the counter, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, but others require a prescription.
Patient advocate—An individual that you choose to be part of your healthcare team to partner with you in your discussions with the doctor. A patient advocate can be a family member, trusted friend or someone who is knowledgeable about your condition or the healthcare industry in general.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)—A long-term condition where the body's immune system attacks not only foreign substances like bacteria and viruses, but also attacks the body itself. It results in symptoms including joint pain, joint stiffness, fatigue and others that may affect the entire body.
Steroid—A type of medicine that reduces the pain and inflammation of RA but has limited ability to reduce joint damage. Steroids can be taken as pills or as an injection directly into a joint. A common steroid taken by people with RA is prednisone.
T cell—A type of white blood cell. T cells are also very important for fighting infections. There are different kinds of T cells, each with a different function. In people with RA, for reasons that aren't really known, T cells responsible for inflammation are seen in large numbers.
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