Select Category

Risk Factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Go Back

Posted on by

What causes rheumatoid arthritis? That’s a question that researchers have been asking themselves for quite some time. Theoretically-speaking, prevention of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) would depend on knowing what causes the disease. But, as the cause of rheumatoid arthritis remains unknown, research has focused on finding the risk factors that increase the likelihood of a person developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Some people are predisposed to developing RA, as their risk factors are unavoidable. For example, it’s a known fact that women are three times more likely to be affected by rheumatoid arthritis than men. But on the other hand are risk factors like smoking are totally avoidable. Here are a few more pointers:

Unavoidable Risk Factors for RA


According to available statistics, gender seems to be an unavoidable risk factor as three times more women than men develop rheumatoid arthritis and related ailments.


Rheumatoid arthritis can develop at any age but onset is most common between 40 and 60 years old. So old age is a factor too, though a healthy lifestyle can help manage RA effectively.


HLA Class II genes are associated with an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Specifically, HLA-DR4 and HLA-DRB1 have long been associated with a genetic predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis. Another is PTPN22, a gene linked to several autoimmune diseases. It is important to note that experts do not view rheumatoid arthritis as an inherited disease, but rather the predisposition for developing rheumatoid arthritis is heritable.

Avoidable Risk Factors for RA

Exposure to Reproductive Hormones

Hormones that are related to reproduction are considered ‘possible’ risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis, though there has been conflicting evidence about hormones and rheumatoid arthritis for years.

Early studies showed a moderate decreased risk of rheumatoid arthritis in women who had used oral contraceptives at any point. More recent studies did not confirm the earlier findings, perhaps because there is a much lower estrogen concentration in newer oral contraceptives.

Hormone replacement therapy has been suspected as a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis but studies have only provided mixed and inconclusive evidence. Other interesting findings are:

  • Women who have never given birth have a slight to moderately increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is less common among women who breastfeed.
  • Women with irregular menstrual cycles or those who have experienced early menopause have increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

Certain aspects of reproductive hormone exposure are modifiable. For example, oral contraception use is a choice as is the decision to breastfeed.

Smoking Cigarettes

There is a modest to moderate (1.3 to 2.4 times) increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis among people who have a history of smoking. The link between smoking and rheumatoid arthritis appears to be strongest in those who are positive for anti-CCP. While this risk factor seems solidly backed by evidence compared to others, it is clearly modifiable.

Dietary Factors

Diet and its possible role in causing rheumatoid arthritis has been considered and studied for years. While diets high in caffeine, low in antioxidants, and high in red meat have been thought to contribute to an increased the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, we are left with no definitive consensus on this theory. Establishing a dietary connection with certainty would be significant since it would be a modifiable risk factor – but the certainty is lacking.

Microbial Exposures

Exposure to an infectious agent (e.g., bacterial infection, viral infection) has also long been suspected of playing a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. There have been several pathogens on the chief suspect list including Mycobacteria, Streptococcus, Mycoplasma, Yersinia, the Rubella virus, and Epstein-Barr virus. But, again, researchers have been unable to conclusively link rheumatoid arthritis to infection.

Thus while scientists are still working on identifying risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis, it would be useful to pay closer attention to the potential risk factors that are modifiable.

#RheumatoidArthritis #Lupus #Gout #Fibromyalgia #JointPain #RiskFactors

About Arthritis Center

This web site is run by an Arthritis Specialist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On this site you will find news about the latest in arthritis, information about research results in the field, tips and information and diet and exercise, and much more.



Latest Blog

Using your genes to predict if you will respond to Rheumatoid arthritis therapy. (not available in Dubai, UAE at this time)

The ORBIT data “showed that patients who have seropositive rheumatoid arthritis are just as likely to respond to rituximab therapy when compared ...

Read More

Your nose can repair your knee arthritis? Not yet in Dubai!

Doctors might one day be able to harvest cells from patients’ noses to produce cartilage that can be transplanted into damaged knee joints, a sma...

Read More

Green tea to the rescue!

Green tea has always been hailed for its anti-inflammatory properties. But researchers at Washington State University (WSU) in Spokane have now ide...

Read More

This web site is run by an Arthritis Specialist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On this site you will find news about the latest in arthritis, information about research results in the field, tips and information and diet and exercise, and much more.


Recent Comments