Rheumatoid Arthritis: 9 Ways Your Risk can Increase

It is quite normal for a person to inquire about the cause behind any of their health conditions. For instance, you want to know if it runs in the family and whether your activities or lifestyle played a hand in increasing the risk of your disease. 

While some illnesses have specific answers, others might not have any particular origin. However, diseases like rheumatoid arthritis may have a plethora of risk factors that contribute to the incidence of the disease. 

Since the multifactorial disease even has a genetic disposition, you may want to keep an eye out for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in the future. This article discusses nine common risk factors and the common RA symptoms.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

A man looking downward.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory health condition, where the immune response starts attacking the tissue cells in our body due to some triggering risk factors. This causes systemic inflammation, which affects the joints predominantly along with your skin, lungs, eyes, and heart.

Some of the common RA symptoms are listed in the following section.

  • Pain and stiffness in more than one joint
  • Tenderness, erythema, and swelling in the affected joints
  • Symmetrical arthralgia (both sides of your body are affected at the same time)
  • The pain improves with use over the day
  • Joints ache is worse in the morning or with inactivity
  • Nodules in your finger joints
  • Fever 
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

9 Common Risk Factors of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Since rheumatoid arthritis is a multifactorial disease, many factors can increase the risk of developing the disease over time. Unfortunately, while some elements are modifiable, there is not much you can do about the others. 

Genetics

Our genetic makeup is a significant risk factor for developing rheumatic arthritis, which is also non-modifiable. If you have a family history of RA, there is a substantial chance that you might develop it in the future. 

According to a National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society study, people with first-degree relatives suffering from RA have almost three times the risk of getting the disease themselves. 

The gene in question is named HLA-DR4. While the presence of this gene can indicate a higher risk, it is also true that not everyone with the gene will develop RA. Instead, people with a positive family history need to focus on other modifiable risk factors to decrease their chances of getting the disease. 

Smoking

Smoking is a well-known, preventable and modifiable risk factor of rheumatoid arthritis. Not only does it increase the incidence of RA in society, but it is also responsible for worsening the symptoms in affected individuals. A 2014 review highlights how smoking results in faster disease progression too.

Moreover, people with the genetic makeup for RA have an increased risk of getting the disease earlier if they smoke. 

Aging

While rheumatoid arthritis can affect individuals of all ages, it is more commonly found in people in their 60s. According to the CDC, aging significantly increases the likelihood of developing RA.

Besides this, there is some variation among the age in genders too. As per the Arthritis Foundation, females are more likely to get the disease, especially between 30 to 60 years of age. Meanwhile, men under 45 years of age only rarely show rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. 

Other Illnesses or Infections

Sometimes, illnesses and infections can lead to an exaggerated immune response in our bodies. Instead of only attacking the offending organism, our body’s immune system fails to differentiate between foreign antigens and our cell markers.

However, infections are an uncommon risk factor for RA symptoms. They are only problematic if you are already genetically vulnerable to the disease and infected with some severe bacteria or viruses. Some of these include Lyme disease, EBV, HIV, and parvovirus. 

Toxins

Scientists have also found a link between the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis and occupational exposure to silica. People who work in mines, steel mills, quarries, and other inorganic silica industries have a higher probability of developing RA symptoms in the future.

Stress

If you are genetically predisposed to RA, sometimes even stress can trigger the onset of RA in your body. Whether you have chronic stress or you go through a single traumatic event, you can end up expressing the related RA genes. Often, people report many RA symptoms soon after a stressful period of their life.

Obesity

Obesity is a risk factor for multiple diseases in our body, including rheumatoid arthritis. Many researchers have commented on the association between metabolic syndrome and RA in affected individuals.

Since both of them involve systemic inflammation, it is not surprising that obesity can lead to an earlier and higher chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis. 

Nutrition

Poor nutrition is responsible for a large number of health conditions in society. Since we have already established obesity as a dominant risk factor, a diet high in fatty food can increase adipose tissue in your body.

Besides this, many people do not incorporate enough fruits and vegetables into their meal plans. Hence, they have much lower antioxidants in their body, a weaker immune system, and higher chances of inflammation.

Additionally, processed food and animal-based meals are other prominent concerning causes of developing rheumatoid arthritis. 

Female Hormone

Autoimmune conditions like RA have a higher incidence in women than in men. In fact, females are two to three times more likely to develop RA than males. 

A woman standing in a field.

While the research is still going on, scientists have discussed the possible role of hormones in causing rheumatoid arthritis in females. 

For example, high estrogens levels due to some underlying pathology can lead to the development of RA. Besides this, nulliparous women or those who have never given birth are also at a higher risk of suffering from RA symptoms. 

According to one study, low testosterone levels were linked to higher RA risk too. In the 2018 study, people affected by RA symptoms had abnormal hormone levels outside their normal range. Researchers then found that the symptoms in the individuals got better with testosterone therapy. 

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Conclusion

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that causes systemic inflammation and affects multiple organ systems. However, its most dominant effect is seen in the joints, where people suffer from chronic joint aches, swelling, and tenderness. 

Overall, researchers have not linked the disease to just one risk factor. Instead, RA is a multifactorial disease with a wide range of risk factors that can trigger the onset in your body. While you cannot change your genetic makeup, it is possible to regulate your body weight, reduce obesity, quit smoking, and treat infections promptly. 

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