Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) tends to run in families. Your likelihood of getting RA, however, is not determined by family history of the disease alone. It is also influenced by environmental factors such as age, obesity and smoking.
- Inherited: Genes that are passed down from your parents to you
- Environmental: Things you are exposed to in your environment such as cigarette smoke
Who is at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis?
Genetic risk factors
If you have relatives with RA, you are at higher risk of developing the disease. And if they are first-degree relatives, you are more than twice as likely to develop RA. Scientists have identified over 100 genetic changes that occur more commonly in people with RA.
Family history of other autoimmune diseases substantially increases the risk of RA as well. These include:
- Thyroid disorders (hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
Other risk factors
Apart from heredity, other risk factors for RA may include:
- Age: The disease mostly occurs in people between 40-60 years of age.
- Hormones: RA affects women more than it affects men.
- Smoking: You are more likely to develop RA if you smoke.
- Obesity: Excess weight, especially if you are under 55 years of age, can increase your risk of RA.
Can I do anything to prevent RA?
Although there is no definitive way to prevent RA, you may be able to lower your risk by:
- Quitting smoking: After hereditary factors, smoking is the next biggest factor that increases your odds of developing RA. It can also worsen disease progression and lead to more joint damage, especially if you are 55 years of age or older.
- Taking care of your gums: New research suggests that there is a connection between RA and gum disease. So brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing regularly and maintaining regular visits to the dentist may help.
- Managing your weight: Being overweight increases the risk of wear and tear on your joints. Maintaining a healthy weight can therefore lower your risk of arthritis, including RA.
Early treatment can help delay the progression of the disease, making your joints less painful and prone to damage. Ideally, you should begin the treatment within 3-6 months of developing initial symptoms.
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Kronzer VL, Crowson CS, Sparks JA, et al. Family history of rheumatic, autoimmune, and nonautoimmune diseases and risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2021 Feb;73(2):180-187.
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