Rheumatoid Arthritis Ra Genetics

Rheumatoid arthritis is often a crippling disease that many find difficult to manage. More than 2.1 million people in the United States suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, with three times as many women than men suffering from the disease. Rheumatoid arthritis affects people later in life, with most people exhibiting symptoms in their late 30’s and early 40’s.

Defining Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation throughout the body. The disease causes the body’s immune system to attack its own synovial membranes, which line the joints.

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis often show symptoms of:

  • fatigue
  • inflammation in the hands, feet, wrists, ankles and knees
  • low fever
  • joint pain
  • joint stiffness
  • weakness.

In rare instances, some patients may exhibit carpel tunnel syndrome or Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition that causes reduced circulation to the fingers in the cold, causing skin discoloration.

The Cause of Rheumatoid Arthritis

While the cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, studies have suggested that a combination of genetics and environmental factors contribute to the disease.

Numerous researchers have demonstrated that smoking and drinking coffee can increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis in those who are already prone to the disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis research has also indicated that certain infections, such as Lyme disease, may also trigger the disease. In addition, people who have been exposed to infections such as Epstein-Bar virus, amoebic organisms or mycoplasma may also have higher risks of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Additional research has suggested that abnormal bowel permeability, or “leaky gut,” may also contribute to a person’s risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Genetics

The biggest predictors for rheumatoid arthritis are genetics and family history. Genetics account for more than half of a person’s total risk of the disease.

People who have family members with rheumatoid arthritis have a higher risk of developing the disease than those who do not. Children of parents with severe rheumatoid arthritis are four times more likely to develop the disease later in their lives than the general population.

Rheumatoid arthritis researchers have identified specific genes that they believe predispose a person to the disease. These genetic markers are found in more than seventy percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

One of the most influential genes discovered is human leucocyte antigens, or HLA-DR4. This gene is present in more than two-thirds of Caucasian patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

In addition, researchers believe genes that encode cytokines and corticotrophin-releasing hormones also play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Although patients cannot change their genes, they are able to lower their risks for developing rheumatoid arthritis by avoiding certain environmental factors, such as smoking. These lifestyle changes can make a dramatic difference in a person’s health.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but advancements in modern medicine have helped patients manage the disease. With medications, physical therapy and surgery, patients can often lower their pain and discomfort and slow the development of the disease. By following their treatment plans, patients are able to ease joint pain and lead healthy, happy lives.


Matsumoto, A; Bathon, J; Bingham,C, (n.d.). Rheumatoid arthritis treatment. Retrieved November 10, 2008, from the John Hopkins Arthritis Center Web site: http://www.hopkins-arthritis.org/arthritis-info/rheumatoid-arthritis/rheum_treat.html.

MediZine LLC. (2007). Why do some people get rheumatoid arthritis? Retrieved November 10, 2008, from the John Hopkins Medicine Health Alerts Web site: http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/arthritis/JohnsHopkinsHealthAlertsArthritis_477-1.html.

Steer, S. (2003). The genetics of rheumatoid arthritis. Retrieved November 10, 2008, from the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society Website: http://www.rheumatoid.org.uk/article.php?article_id=78

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