Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Hereditary (Can It Run in Families)?

The role of genetic factor in rheumatic conditions is continuously being observed. Although this issue is not fully understood yet, but experts believe that the genetic predisposition has a role. How about in rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? Is it hereditary condition? Does having a family history of RA will put you at high risk of having the same problem?

Understanding the causes of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in general

It has been long known that RA is triggered by the abnormality of immune system, that’s why we call it as autoimmune disease. However, it’s not yet known what the cause of how this abnormality condition occurs.

In normal condition, the immune system of the body plays a key role to make antibodies to protect the body and attack harmful objects such as harmful virus and bacteria.

But in RA, the immune system can go awry and act in the wrong way.  As the disease develops, some cells of the immune system mark one type of person’s own healthy protein as a harmful and foreign intruder.

The exactly type of this protein is not known. But whatever it is, it reacts to lymphocytes. And this reaction triggers the body to make and release more cytokines, chemical messengers – which then eventually will stimulate more inflammation and destruction.

image_illustration290In RA, the abnormality of immune system can mistakenly send antibodies to healthy tissues of the joints, causing the lining of membranes surrounding the joint called synovium to become inflamed and sore.

The inflammation in the synovium can lead to damage to other essential parts of the joint, such as cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and bones. Each flare could pose the risk of joint damage.

And since RA is a systemic condition, the inflammation could spread to other parts /areas of the body, causing serious complications that are not related to the joint such as heart problems, lung diseases, eye problems, anemia, etc. That’s why it’s important to control RA as well.

In addition, there are some types of cytokines in RA. The most significantly types are interleukin-1 and TNF (tumor necrosis factor). Some medications are available to help control and block these cytokines, making the inflammation to improve and reducing the risk of joint damage.

Is RA hereditary?

The significantly advances in genetic analysis make the way of how to understand the complexity link between genetic factor and RA slightly easier. However this issue is challenging – so far, there is still no clearly answer.

Some risk factors of this disease have been identified. Your risk for RA is relatively higher than others if you are an individual with some of the following conditions:

  1. Hormones! In fact, RA can occur in both women and men. But this arthritis occurs more often in women and that’s why experts say that gender is one of risk factors. The reason is unclear – there may be a link between hormonal changes and this risk. A hormone called estrogen is higher in women than in men, and this may have an effect on the risk.
  2. Age factor! This arthritis can occur in people of all ages, but typically it is found in those at the ages of 40-60 years old.
  3. Some environmental factors may have an effect, too. Smoking can pose the risk of many health conditions. And some new evidences suggest that smokers might be at high risk of RA.

How about genetic factor?

Having a family history of RA may increase the risk. But the good news, the effect of the inherited genetic trait in increasing the risk is not strong, according to some studies!

It is not like diabetes in which the tendency to pass the disease in families is strong.

In diabetes, if both parents have the disease, the risk for their child to have the same problem can increase significantly and the child will have it as well (especially if followed with poorly-controlled manageable risk factors of diabetes)!