7 Risk Factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis
- A Mix of Genetic and Environmental FactorsRheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease that causes swelling and pain in many joints. It is the most common type of autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease affects your immune system, which is the body’s defense system. The immune system usually attacks invaders like germs. However, an autoimmune disease makes the immune system attack healthy cells by mistake. In RA, the attack mainly occurs against the cells that line your joints. Doctors do not know exactly why some people get RA and others don't. Certain factors, though, could increase your risk.
- Being a WomanAnyone can get RA, and it can occur at any age. But, being a woman definitely increases your risk. A woman is 2 to 3 times more likely than a man to develop RA. In fact, about 75% of people living with RA are women. The female hormone estrogen probably has something to do with this. Women usually have the first symptoms of RA after age 40, when their estrogen levels are changing.
- Never Breastfeeding a BabyBreastfeeding offers some protection against RA. Several studies have come to this conclusion. The newest one, published in 2014, surveyed more than 7,000 women. Those who breastfed were half as likely to get RA as women who didn't breastfeed. And, the longer they breastfed, the lower their risk of RA. Women also have a higher RA risk if they never give birth or have irregular menstrual periods. But, the researchers noted that the best protection doesn't come from simply having children. It's breastfeeding that makes the difference.
- Inheriting Genes for RASeveral genes passed down through your family can increase your chances of having RA. For instance, if your ancestors came from Europe, you're about twice as likely as others to carry a gene linked to RA. Or, if you have a twin with RA, your chances of having the disease are greater. Your risk goes up only slightly if you have a parent with RA. However, having genes for RA is not the whole story. Many people who have RA-linked genes do not get RA. Experts believe that other risk factors must trigger these genes to become active.
- SmokingSmoking is one of the most likely RA triggers. And, studies show smoking can more than double your chances of developing RA. Smoking can cause problems after you have RA, too. That's because smoking makes your body less able to respond to treatment. A study of more than 1,700 smokers with RA found that smoking decreased the response to two common RA drugs by about 50%.
- Not Getting Enough Omega-3sOmega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation. That’s why they may help reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases like RA. You can get omega-3s from eating nuts and oily fish, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines. You can also take pills that contain omega-3s (fish oil supplements). There have been only a few studies on omega-3s and RA. The results suggest that people have fewer RA symptoms when taking omega-3s. And, people taking them also needed fewer over-the-counter drugs to ease pain and swelling from RA.
- Getting Too Little Vitamin DA review of studies, published in 2012, examined the link between vitamin D and RA. It found that people with low levels of vitamin D had a higher risk of RA. On the other hand, those with the highest levels of vitamin D were about 25% less likely to develop RA. To raise your vitamin D levels, get out in the sunlight, eat foods that have vitamin D added to them, or take a vitamin D supplement. A blood test can measure your vitamin D levels.
- Being ObesePeople don’t always think of obesity as an RA risk factor. It’s a fact that both obesity and RA have been on the rise in recent years. One study compared the weights of people who had RA and people who didn't. It found that being obese was associated with about a 25% higher risk of developing RA. Other research suggests that the best diet for reducing arthritis risk is one that's high in fruits, vegetables, grains and beans.
7 Risk Factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis