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Is arthritis hereditary?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a joint disorder that usually first attacks the smaller joints of the fingers, toes, and wrists. The factors that can increase the risk of this condition involves a complex interplay of genetic and environmental triggers. Rheumatoid arthritis or RA is an autoimmune disorder, which is linked to the genetic makeup of a person. However, the relationship with genetics is complicated. Over 60 genes have been identified which may contribute to the risk of RA.

Genetic factors in rheumatoid arthritis
Girl holds knee due to joint pain

Overall, however, genetics only plays a small part in the overall risk. If one identical twin has RA, the chance is only 12-15% that the other one will also get it, even though their genes are identical.

Rheumatoid arthritis is believed to occur due to the inflammation of the joint tissues caused by the immune system attacking the synovium, the lining around the joint. While genetics does contribute some of the risks, the single most preventable risk factor is smoking.

There is also a link to the disease of the gums and there is emerging information about the link to the microbiome, the bacteria that live in our gut.

The common signs and symptoms of this disease include pain and stiffness in the smaller joints, especially the fingers, toes, wrists, and elbows. The symptoms are usually worse in the morning making it difficult for the patient to move about immediately upon rising.

Arthritis in the joints
Arthritis in the joints of the hands

The diagnosis of RA is usually based on the typical clinical presentation with symptoms such as pain and stiffness in the joints and the involvement of smaller joints. Specific blood tests called rheumatoid factor and anti-CCP antibodies can help to confirm the diagnosis of this disease.

We often do additional testing to look for associated autoimmune conditions (such as an anti-nuclear antibody) and to indicate the level of inflammation (such as ESR and C-reactive protein).

What are the other risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis?

Here are several other factors that can contribute to the development of this disease as given below:

  • Gender: Women are more likely to suffer from RA than men (3.6% of women are affected in their lifetime compared to 1.7% of men).

  • Age: RA typically affects patients between the ages of 23 to 40 years but it can occur later in life too.

  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking significantly increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Environmental exposures: Exposure to asbestos, dust, and silica may increase the risk of RA.

  • Obesity: People who are overweight are more likely to develop RA than those with a healthy weight.

What are the best ways to prevent the development of RA?

  • The most important one is not to smoke;

  • Keeping trim and avoiding obesity;

  • It’s probably helpful and important to keep good oral hygiene and avoid periodontitis.

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