Despite experts’ growing knowledge about rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the exact cause of RA is still a mystery. We still can’t say with certainty why or how someone will develop RA.
However, experts have found 4 factors that seem to be connected with the risk of developing RA.
Here are the 4 factors that appear to be the likeliest causes for RA, according to recent research:
1. Your genes
There is a specific genetic marker known as HLA-DR4 that is found more frequently in those with RA: 60 to 70% of Caucasians with RA have it, compared with 20% of the general population. But the gene is not a definitive enough sign to test for it—doctors usually diagnose RA without doing a genetic test.
2. Your lifestyle
Several lifestyle factors have been shown to play a role in RA risk, including:
- Smoking—nicotine in the bloodstream can increase rheumatoid factor levels
- Diet—one large study of women found that consuming sugary sodas raised RA risk
- Weight—those who are overweight or obese are at higher risk
3. Your hormones
Women are more at risk for RA than men, and many experts think this is because women are more subject to hormone fluctuations. Specifically, RA risk seems to go up when hormone levels drop, such as right after pregnancy or at menopause. For this reason, some researchers are investigating whether oral contraceptives can help women decrease their risk for RA, or lessen symptoms if they already have RA.
4. Your body (infections and microbiome)
Some research points to connections between RA and certain viral or bacterial infections in the body. There are also researchers looking into the connection between RA and the body’s microbiome. Your body hosts a broad range of microorganisms, particularly in the intestinal tract—this is known as the microbiome. More research is needed to establish the connections between RA, infections, and the microbiome.
Having some—or even all—of the characteristics listed above is no guarantee that someone will develop RA.
However, those who have risk factors they can’t control, such as women with family members who have RA, may want to act on the factors they can control by watching their weight or avoiding smoking.