Risk Factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Health Writer
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What are risk factors?

Risk factors are things that increase your chance of deveoping a disease or condition, and they can be genetic or environmental. The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis isn’t known, but certain risk factors may increase your risk. Risk factors increase the chances of you developing a disease or condition. Having one or more risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) doesn’t mean you're going to develop it, but it does mean you're more likely to than someone who doesn’t share the risk factors. Risk factors can be genetic or environmental.



RA can begin at any age. Children as young as 2 can develop what is called juvenile idiopathic arthritis or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. However, the highest rate of onset is among adults in their 60s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).



Your family health history may contribute to your risk for RA. People who are born with a certain gene type may be more likely to develop RA. The risk increases when these individuals are exposed to environmental factors such as smoking or obesity.


Being female

Women are more likely than men to develop RA. In a study published in 2017, 61 percent of the participants with RA were women, even though overall, participants were divided fairly equally between men and women.



Smoking has been associated with an increased risk of developing RA, according to a study published in 2017. It's thought that smoking increases oxidative stress, inflammation, and the development of autoimmune antibodies, which may increase the chances of developing RA, especially in those with certain genetic characteristics.



Studies that associated obesity with an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis also found that the more overweight a person is, the higher their risk.


Being diagnosed with osteoporosis

Women who were diagnosed with osteoporosis were four times more likely to develop RA than women who did not have osteoporosis, according to the study published in 2017. In the women with osteoporosis, 32 percent had RA, compared to only 11 percent of those without the bone-density disease.


No live births

Women who have never given birth may have a higher risk of developing RA than women who have a history of live births, according to the CDC.


Exposure to smoke in childhood

Children whose mothers smoked while they were young may have an increased risk of developing RA, according to the CDC.


Living in poverty

Children whose parents are low-income have a higher risk of developing RA, according to the CDC. A study published in 2017 also looked at this issue by examining a health database for Taiwan. Researchers found that those with RA who had a low socioeconomic status had a higher five-year mortality rate.


Decreasing risk factors

You can’t change your genetics; however, lifestyle changes can still make a difference, according to the authors of the study completed in 2017. Losing weight and quitting smoking may decrease your risk. Reducing your child’s exposure to second-hand smoke may decrease their risk factors. Talk to your doctor about your risks and what you can do to minimize them.