Autoimmune Disease Spotlight: Rheumatoid Arthritis & Lupus

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and lupus are in the top ten of the most common autoimmune diseases, but how are they different from each other? Read on to find out.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus Defined

Both RA and lupus are autoimmune disease meaning that the body’s immune system attacks itself. A normal immune system attacks foreign objects, like bacteria and viruses. With an autoimmune disease, the immune system targets your body like it’s attacking a foreign body. One of the main effects of this immune system response is inflammation throughout the body.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the tissue that lines the inside of the joints, called the synovium, causing it to thicken. This can cause pain and swelling in and around the joints in hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles.

In lupus, the autoimmune response’s is more wide spread. The immune system attacks your joints in addition to your skin, brain, lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels. To better understand lupus and its symptoms, there are 4 different types:

  1. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)- Causes the body to attack many parts of the body, ranging from mild to severe.
  2. Cutaneous Lupus- Causes lesions or rashes on the skin (sometimes presents itself as a butterfly rash over the cheeks and nose)
  3. Drug-induced Lupus- Caused by the immune system’s overreaction to certain medications.
  4. Neonatal Lupus- Cause when an infant acquires auto-antibodies from their mother with SLE while they are in the womb.

What are the Risk Factors?

As with most autoimmune diseases, there is not one clear cause. However, being in the following groups can increase your chances:

  • Lupus:
    • Women are more likely to get lupus than men.
    • If lupus runs in your family, your chances are raised to develop it.
    • African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans are diagnosed more often than Caucasians.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis:
    • Nearly three times the amount of women have the disease than men.
    • Typically affects ages 30-60.
    • If you have a family member with RA, your risks are increased.


Since there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, treatments will be based upon managing the symptoms such as reducing the frequency of flare ups, when the symptoms suddenly increase, and preventing damage to the joint or organ tissues.

No treatment is the same for each individual and your doctor will work with you to treat the symptoms. Since lupus affects different areas of the body, it may be necessary to see a specialist for each organ affected.

RA has several treatment options available to reduce inflammation and help reduce the body’s immune response.

Treating an autoimmune disease is a lifelong process and will require those diagnosed with one to work closely with their care team.

In addition to educating the public about RA and lupus, Stamford Therapeutics Consortium is currently conducting clinical studies on these autoimmune diseases to explore different treatment options. Qualified participants receive compensation for time and travel and access to treatment options not yet available to the public. If you or someone you love is diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, clinical studies may be an option for you. Click HERE to learn more about all of our enrolling studies.