5 Surprising Facts About Rheumatoid Arthritis

By Karina Lichtenstein

Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Think you know everything there is to know about rheumatoid arthritis? These five facts might surprise you.

  1. Smoking can trigger rheumatoid arthritis. Smokers have higher rates of rheumatoid arthritis compared to nonsmokers. No one knows exactly how smoking increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Certain genes may interact with environmental factors – like cigarette smoke – to trigger the condition in susceptible individuals. In one study, 35% of severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis were attributed to smoking. And in those who carried high-risk genes for the condition, smoking accounted for 55% of severe cases. Learn more about the link between smoking and rheumatoid arthritis.
  2. Rheumatoid arthritis affects 1.3 million Americans, including children. The vast majority of people living with rheumatoid arthritis are women. But men and children can develop the condition, too. About one in 1,000 children are afflicted with arthritis in a given year. Read about the common age ranges for the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.
  3. Rheumatoid arthritis causes more than pain; it can lead to disability and even death. Severe rheumatoid arthritis can affect the eyes, heart, blood vessels, skin, lungs, and other organs. Severe rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to joint destruction and disability. Mortality is twice as high in people who have rheumatoid arthritis compared to those who don't have the condition. See the difference between normal joints and arthritic joints in this slideshow.
  4. Rheumatoid arthritis can be stopped! Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious condition, but there's good news. Rheumatoid arthritis is manageable and many effective treatments are available that can help minimize the potential for serious consequences. Learn more about different kinds of rheumatoid arthritis treatments in this article.
  5. Rheumatoid arthritis is an active area of medical research. Ongoing studies promise to make the future even brighter for rheumatoid arthritis patients. Gene studies will help determine which patients will respond best to certain treatments. And new medications will target rheumatoid arthritis in novel ways. Read more about rheumatoid arthritis research.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

"Rheumatoid Arthritis Fact Sheet." Arthritis Foundation. 2008. <http://www.arthritis.org/media/newsroom/media-kits/Rheumatoid_Arthritis_Fact_Sheet.pdf>.

Källberg, Henrik, et al., "Smoking is a major preventable risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis: estimations of risks after various exposures to cigarette smoke." Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases 70.3 (2010): 508-511.

Shiel, William C. "Arthritis in Childhood (Juvenile Arthritis, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis)." MedicineNet.com. 25 March 2008. <https://www.medicinenet.com/juvenile_arthritis/article.htm>.

Shiel, William C. and Melissa Conrad Stöppler. "Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)." MedicineNet.com. 23 March 2011. <https://www.medicinenet.com/rheumatoid_arthritis/article.htm>.