Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting many joints, including those in the hands and feet. However, the condition can damage a wide variety of body systems, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. It occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues. RA affects your joint linings, causing painful swelling and inflammation. Over long periods of time, the inflammation can cause bone erosion and joint deformity. RA can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages. This is because the early signs and symptoms mimic many other diseases.
The specific causes of RA are unknown, but some factors can increase the risk of developing the disease.
- Age. RA can begin at any age, but the likelihood increases with age. The onset of RA is highest among adults in their sixties.
- Sex. New cases of RA are typically two-to-three times higher in women than men.
- Genetics/inherited traits. People born with specific genes are more likely to develop RA. These genes, called HLA (human leukocyte antigen) class II genotypes, can also make your arthritis worse. The risk of RA may be highest when people with these genes are exposed to environmental factors like smoking or when a person is obese.
- Obesity. Being obese can increase the risk of developing RA. Studies examining the role of obesity also found that the more overweight a person was, the higher their risk of developing RA became.
- Smoking. Multiple studies show that cigarette smoking increases a person’s risk of developing RA and can make the disease worse.
- History of live births. Women who have never given birth may be at a greater risk of developing RA.
- Early Life Exposures. Some early life exposures may increase risk of developing RA in adulthood. For example, one study found that children whose mothers smoked had double the risk of developing RA as adults. Children of lower income parents are also at increased risk of developing RA as adults.