Risk Factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis

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A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing RA. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

RA can develop at any age, but it usually appears between 30 and 50 years of age. RA is more common in women, and it appears later in life for men. Factors that may increase your chance of RA include:

  • Genetics—Some people with RA have specific genetic variations that are associated with abnormal immune response.
  • Smoking—Current or past smoking may nearly double the risk of RA. Smoking is considered an environmental risk factor and is associated with chronic inflammatory reactions throughout the body. Tobacco use in combination with genetic factors has the most impact on risk.
  • Infection—Bacterial and viral infections cause an immune response. Inflammation stimulates a process to rid the body of infection. In some people, this inflammation and tissue building doesn't stop. Negative immune responses increase the risk of RA.
  • Obesity —Some evidence has made associations between obesity and an increased risk of RA in women.

Revision Information

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  • Handout on health: Rheumatoid arthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health%5FInfo/Rheumatic%5FDisease/default.asp. Updated August 2014. Accessed October 30, 2014.

  • Lee J, Taneja V, et al. Cigarette smoking and inflammation: Cellular and molecular mechanisms. J Dent Res. 2012;91(2):142-149.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.arthritis.org/conditions-treatments/disease-center/rheumatoid-arthritis. Accessed October 30, 2014.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis. The Merck Manual Professional Edition website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/musculoskeletal%5Fand%5Fconnective%5Ftissue%5Fdisorders/joint%5Fdisorders/rheumatoid%5Farthritis%5Fra.html. Updated May 2013. Accessed October 30, 2014.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 10, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2014.

  • Sugiyama D, Nishimura K, et al. Impact of smoking as a risk factor for developing rheumatoid arthritis: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Ann Rheum Dis. 2010;69(1):70-81.

  • Wasserman AM. Diagnosis and management of rheumatoid arthritis. Am Fam Physician. 2011;84(11):1245-1252.