Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects the joints and other parts of the body. The exact causes are not clear, but certain factors increase the risk of developing it.
Several factors can increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Some are unavoidable, but a person can take steps to prevent others from leading to RA.
Changing your diet, quitting smoking, taking care of your teeth and gums, and taking probiotics can reduce your risk of developing this condition. In this article, learn more about the risk factors for RA and the steps that can help prevent it.
- Genetic factors
If a close family member has RA, a person may have a higher risk of developing the disease.
However, a variety of environmental and genetic factors may contribute to the disease. There is no single genetic change that causes RA in everyone who has it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women are two to three times more likely to develop RA than men. Hormones may play a role, and research on this topic is ongoing.
High levels of estrogen, a female sex hormone also found in men, may contribute to the development of the disease.
In addition, the CDC notes that women who have never given birth may have a higher probability of developing RA.
Some research points to a link between low testosterone levels and RA.
In 2018, researchers published the results of a study of 59 participants with RA and 61 participants without the condition, matched for sex and age. People with RA were more likely to have testosterone levels outside the normal range.
Some participants with RA were then treated with serum testosterone, and their RA activity decreased. The study authors believe that hormone replacement therapy may help treat RA symptoms.
During and after menopause, some women with RA experience a decline in physical ability, according to the results of another 2018 study. This finding also suggests that hormones play a role in the progression of RA.
Meanwhile, research in animals and humans suggests that receiving estrogen replacement therapy after menopause may increase the risk of developing RA.
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RA can develop at any age, but the risk increases with age. According to the CDC, RA is most likely to occur around age 60.
Scientists have found links between smoking and an increased risk of developing RA, even in people with low lifetime exposure to smoke. In addition, heavy smokers may have more severe RA symptoms, according to research.
Smoking can cause oxidative stress and increase the frequency of the body’s inflammatory response. It can also make some RA medications less effective.
Some researchers believe that stress may play a role in RA. For example, the way the body reacts to stress can make symptoms worse.
People with rheumatism often report that their symptoms started soon after traumatic or stressful experiences, and many people find that stress causes RA symptoms to flare up.
According to the CDC, obesity increases the risk of developing RA.
In addition, researchers link obesity to several health problems, such as metabolic syndrome, that can exacerbate RA symptoms. For example, inflammation is a common feature of obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Results from a 2018 study in Taiwan suggest that socioeconomic status may affect the risk of developing RA. The authors found that people were more likely to develop it if they lived in an area where low monthly income was common.
This could be due to factors such as occupation, housing conditions, stress and diet, but access to health care could also play a role, the researchers note.
The authors of a 2014 study in the southeastern United States concluded that socioeconomic factors and racial bias may help shape the experiences of African Americans with RA. They called for more research on these effects on African Americans in other parts of the country.
The impact of an infection on the immune system can trigger RA. According to 2013 research, an infection can have this effect if:
Part of the immune system loses its ability to handle certain microbes, such as bacteria or viruses.
The infection triggers the production of new antigens, causing the immune system to become hyperactive.
The immune system’s response to infection also attacks some of the body’s functions, in a process called “secondary activation”.
What infections can contribute to RA?
Some people develop signs of certain types of arthritis within four weeks of a genitourinary or gastrointestinal infection. Some research indicates that the following infections, in particular, may contribute to RA:
a urinary tract infection due to Proteus mirabilis bacteria
infection with the Epstein-Barr virus
Infection with Mycoplasma bacteria
certain types of gum disease
Gum disease can be twice as common in people with RA as in people without RA. However, this does not necessarily mean that gum disease increases the risk of developing RA. Other factors must be present to trigger arthritis.
Other pathogens that can trigger arthritis or cause RA-like symptoms include:
- Hepatitis B and C viruses
- Alpha viruses, such as chikungunya
A 2013 study found that 75% of participants with new and untreated RA had Prevotella copri bacteria in their gut. It was present in only 21% of participants in a control group and only 12% in a group receiving treatment for chronic RA. The researchers proposed that P. copri may play a role in inflammation, which may help trigger RA.
The authors of a 2016 study concluded that people with RA may have an abundance of certain microbes and that finding indications of these microbes in the gut may predict disease development.
Nearly a year later, in an animal study, researchers found that altering the balance of microbes in the gut could prevent the onsetReliable source of RA.
Dietary factors can affect the risk of many diseases, and some researchers have suggested that certain substances in food can trigger the onset of RA.
The authors of a 2018 study found that a type of bacteria found in some milk and beef could trigger RA in people with genetic predispositions.
A year earlier, other researchers identified a number of foods that could reduce inflammation in people with RA, possibly because of their antioxidant properties.
The researchers recommended the following foods, among others
- raw or lightly cooked vegetables, especially legumes and greens
- spices, such as turmeric and ginger
- seasonal fruits
- probiotic yogurt
- They strongly advise avoiding animal products and foods containing large amounts of salt and oil, including many processed foods.
The research team did not suggest that dietary interventions could prevent RA, but that eating anti-inflammatory foods could help manage symptoms.
The exact causes of RA remain unclear, but experts have identified some factors that may increase the risk of developing it.
Some of these, such as age, are unavoidable. However, certain lifestyle choices, such as quitting smoking, can help prevent the disease.