Know the Causes and Risk Factors of Rheumatoid Arthritis

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Dec 21, 2013

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Quick Bites

  • Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system targets a person's joints.
  • Doctors aren't sure of the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • It may result from a combination of genetics and environmental triggers.
  • RA can occur at any age, but is more common in middle age.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune condition, is a chronic inflammatory polyarthritis (arthritis that affects 5 or more joints). An auto immune disease is one where the body’s immune system starts attacking the healthy tissues. RA causes premature mortality, disability and compromised quality of life.

causes of rheumatoid arthritisRheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation and swelling in the joints and surrounding tissues, mostly in the wrist, knees, fingers, feet, and ankles.

Background of Rheumatoid arthritis

The disease can be classified under three courses:

  • Monocyclic- When RA has one episode which ends within 2-5 years of initial diagnosis, it is known as a monocyclic course. In this case, the episode does not reoccur. This may be a result of early diagnosis and/or aggressive treatment.
  • Polycyclic- The levels of disease fluctuate over the course of treatment in this type of RA.
  • Progressive- In this kind, RA continues to increase in severity and is unremitting.


Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Doctors aren’t sure of the exact cause of RA; till date no infection or organism has been identified as the cause. It is thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may be behind causing rheumatoid arthritis.

Some researchers blame an infection with a bacteria or virus to be the triggers for causing RA in people who are genetically susceptible.  The development rheumatoid arthritis takes place when body’s own immune cells think of one type of the person’s own protein as a foreign intruder.

The type of protein is not exactly known; it can be one of any number of potential candidates. The source of this protein may be any- produced in response to infections, or genetic connection. Regardless of the source of this protein, lymphocyte cells react to this protein.

Cytokines (chemical messengers that trigger more inflammation) are released as the result of this reaction. The main target of this inflammation is synvomium (the thin membrane that lines the joints), causing rheumatoid arthritis.

The inflammation can also spread to other body parts but joints are affected by it the worst. Gradually the affected joints lose their shape and alignment.

Risk Factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis



RA can attack people of any age- from childhood to old age. However, its onset usually begins between the ages 30- 50 years. There is one branch of RS called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis which affects children. It often dissolves before adulthood.


Women are at an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis as compared to men.

Family History

The genes that make you more susceptible to developing RA can be inherited. However, a family history of RA does not increase a person’s risk of getting the disease.


People, who are heavy smokers and have been smoking for a long time, are more prone to getting RA. This is particularly true for patients who do not have a family history of the disease.

Alcohol Use

Some evidence tells that consuming moderate amount of alcohol (2- 4 drinks per week) help protect women against rheumatoid arthritis.

The course of rheumatoid arthritis differs from person to person. For some patients, they disease becomes less aggressive over time and symptoms may improve. Other people develop a more severe form of the disease. Fortunately, for many patients newer treatments are helping slow the progression of the disease and preventing severe disability.


Read more articles on Arthritis.

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