Having a family history of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can increase a person’s risk of developing the condition. But, other factors, such as smoking and obesity, increase the risk.

RA is an autoimmune disorder where an individual’s immune system attacks the fluid-filled linings of the joints. The result is inflammation and swelling that can cause pain, especially in the hand, wrist, and knee joints.

This article discusses the relationship between RA, genes, and family history. We also look at additional risk factors for the disease.

Overhead view of young woman on sofa with grandmother looking at photo albumShare on Pinterest
Gpointstudio/Getty Images

Health experts believe RA is at least partially hereditary. A person who has a direct family relative with RA may be two to five times more likely to develop the condition. Older studies of identical twins found that there was around a 60% chance of inheriting the condition.

However, someone’s risk for RA is likely to be highest when they have specific genes that have links with the condition as well as other risk factors, such as smoking or obesity.

For example, a study found that children who grew up with mothers who smoked had double the risk of developing RA in adulthood.

Researchers have identified several parts of the human DNA code that could relate to RA.

One example involves the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes. Doctors have pinpointed the HLA-DRB1 gene as having an association with RA.

People who have this genetic marker are more likely to develop RA than those who do not.

Other genes that may have an association with RA include:

  • PTPN22: This gene plays a role in the development and progression of the disease.
  • STAT4: This gene helps control how the body regulates and activates the immune system.
  • TRAF1 and C5: These genes can cause chronic inflammation.

However, doctors have not identified how a person acquires these genes. It is possible for a biological parent to pass down an altered gene to their child. Additionally, external factors could play a role.

Additionally, not everyone who has RA-associated genes develops this condition.

In addition to a family history of RA, the following are risk factors for RA:

  • Age: Older adults are more likely to have RA.
  • Sex: Natal females are more likely than natal males to develop this form of arthritis.
  • Smoking: People who smoke are more likely to have RA, and their symptoms may be worse.
  • Obesity: Individuals with obesity have a higher risk of the condition.
  • History of live births and chestfeeding: People who have never given birth have a higher risk of developing RA. Those who have nursed a baby have a lower risk.

Anyone with concerns about their risk of developing RA should speak with a doctor.

A healthcare professional may recommend lifestyle changes to minimize specific risks. They may also explain the early signs and symptoms to look for to help diagnose and treat RA promptly.

Learn more about risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis.

Though a person can adjust certain risk factors for RA, they cannot change others, such as age.

However, a healthy lifestyle may help reduce the controllable risks of developing RA. Steps to take include:

Learn more about arthritis prevention.

The genetic risk of RA appears to be highest if a person has specific HLA gene sequences that researchers believe have correlations with RA.

While having a family history of RA may increase someone’s risk of getting the disease, so can a variety of lifestyle factors. By focusing on leading a healthy lifestyle, individuals can reduce their risk.

Additionally, getting an early diagnosis of RA and receiving prompt treatment can help slow the progression of the disease, so it is best to speak with a doctor as soon as possible if people experience any joint pain or stiffness.

Read this article in Spanish.