Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes

Your Gender May Play a Role in Developing RA

Researchers don't exactly know what causes rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, they have some clues as to what may contribute to developing RA. Rather than a single cause, experts think a combination of factors can cause rheumatoid arthritis.

About 1.3 million people in the US have rheumatoid arthritis, and out of these people, women are 3 times more likely than men to have RA.1 Gender is certainly a significant factor in whether you'll develop rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, female hormones may be linked to this condition.2

Other than your gender, here are some other rheumatoid arthritis causes.

Your immune system: RA is an autoimmune disorder, which means that your body turns against itself, attacking healthy tissues. No one knows exactly what causes autoimmune disorders.

In rheumatoid arthritis, you can have a higher level of a certain antibody called the rheumatoid factor (M class) in your blood. Having the rheumatoid factor doesn't guarantee you'll have RA, but it certainly increases the likelihood of developing it.

Certain genetic markers: Although rheumatoid arthritis cannot be inherited from a family member, you may be more susceptible toward developing RA if someone else in your family has it. However, researchers are still investigating this.

What we do know is that a genetic marker—called HLA-DR4—may be associated with rheumatoid arthritis. This genetic marker is found in many people with RA. In fact, people with this genetic marker have a 5-fold greater chance of developing RA than people without the marker.3 Other genes that may have a connection to RA are STAT4 (a gene that helps regulate and activate the immune system), TRAF1 and C5 (genes that may promote chronic inflammation), and PTPN22 (a gene that may be associated with developing rheumatoid arthritis). 3

However, it's important to recognize that not everyone who carries these genes will have RA. The opposite is true as well—not everyone with rheumatoid arthritis has these genetic markers.

An infection: Some bacteria and viruses may trigger the immune system to turn against itself, which could in turn lead to rheumatoid arthritis. For example, if you have one of the genetic markers mentioned above and then you get a virus, this may "set off" RA.

Stress: Emotional and physical trauma, such as a bad car accident, may contribute to developing RA. As with an infection, stress may "set off" rheumatoid arthritis.

Smoking: When you smoke, you not only increase your risk of developing RA, but if you have RA, smoking enhances rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and can also reduce the effectiveness of many rheumatoid arthritis treatments.

Researchers continue to examine other factors that may cause rheumatoid arthritis. And the good news is that if you do have RA, there are plenty of ways to treat it. From managing your stress to other RA lifestyle tips, you can significantly ease your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Updated on: 11/19/15