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Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Hereditary? Here's What You Need to Know

Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Hereditary According to the Arthritis Foundation, approximately 1.5 million people in the United States alone have rheumatoid arthritis. With this disease affecting so many people, it’s natural to question whether or not it’s genetic. So, is rheumatoid arthritis hereditary? Keep reading to learn more.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints. The body’s immune system attacks the lining in your joints causing the synovium—which makes a fluid that lubricates joints— to thicken. This results in pain and inflammation in the affected areas. RA is a chronic disease that is different from osteoarthritis (this is due to wear and tear on the joints). It includes the following symptoms:
  • Tender and swollen joints
  • Joint stiffness and pain
  • Fever, fatigue, and weight loss
Is rheumatoid arthritis a disability? According to the Genetics Home Reference, RA “can also cause inflammation of other tissues and organs.” This can include the eyes, lungs, and blood vessels. Typically, early onsets of RA affect smaller joints like the ones in your hands and feet. Once it begins to progress, it can start affecting the joints in your wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. RA symptoms and severity may vary between individuals. People may also experience flares— wherein there’s increased activity—which could alternate with periods of remission1. In particularly aggressive RA cases, joints can become deformed and shift out of place2. This is especially if the inflammation goes unchecked as it can damage cartilage and bones. According to the Arthritis Foundation, there is a loss of cartilage over time in patients with RA. Because of this, the spacing between bones can also become smaller. This can bring about further pain and issues with motility. RA is more common amongst women and its onset can begin between the ages of 30 and 60. The onset in men usually occurs later in life.

Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Hereditary?

The exact cause for RA is not exactly understood and it is not considered hereditary because the inheritance pattern is unclear. The reason is because geneticists cannot calculate the chances of developing this disease based on family history. According to the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society , genetics is not entirely responsible for a person’s susceptibility to developing RA. Research indicates that “many patients may not have a family history of the disease.” 3 Furthermore “in families with more than one individual affected, RA is not clearly transmitted from one generation to another.”4 Having said this, according to the Genetics Home Reference, those with family members who have RA are more likely to develop the disease. While the cause isn’t exactly clear, scientists believe RA can “develop as a result of interactions between inherited (genetic) factors and environment factors.”5 Research suggests that exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution, insecticides, mineral oil, and silica can be factors for an individual’s chances of developing RA.

Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis Currently, there is no cure for RA. However, going into remission is more likely possible when treatments begin earlier. Treatments can vary but here's a quick overview of some of them:

1. Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs

Individuals with RA can receive disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to manage symptoms. These drugs help slow the disease’s progression. They also prevent joints and other tissues from undergoing permanent damage. Medications in this category include methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, sulfasalazine, leflunomide, and more.

2. Biological Agents

Biological agents, a subset of DMARDs, can also be used for treatments. These drugs “target parts of the immune system that trigger inflammation that causes joint and tissue damage.”6 This class includes medications like adalimumab (brand name: Humira), infliximab (brand name: Remicade), anakinra (brand name: Kineret), and more.

3. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Aleve or Advil can also help ease pain and inflammation. These drugs are available over-the-counter or by prescription. Be sure to also read more about the differences between Aleve and ibuprofen to see which is right for you. Celecoxib, known by the brand name Celebrex, is another well-known prescription NSAID. Be sure to read our Celebrex Review to see if it may be right for you.

4. Corticosteroids

Patients can also receive corticosteroids for treatment. These drugs are potent and quick-acting that can also help slow symptoms. They may be used while waiting for DMARDs or NSAIDs to take effect7. This drug class includes medications like prednisone, methylprednisolone, and prednisolone. In cases where medications cannot prevent or slow joint damage, surgery may be the next step in repairing damaged joints. This is to help restore motility and to reduce pain. Be sure to consult with your doctor to determine the right course of action for treatment.

Is Rheumatoid Arthritis a Disability?

This autoimmune disease can be debilitating and can severely impact your day-to-day activities. As such, it can also impact your ability to work. According to WebMD, “close to one out of every three employees with rheumatoid arthritis leaves the workforce.” With that in mind, RA can be disabling depending on its severity and duration. If you have extreme pain and issues with motility over extended periods, you may qualify for disability benefits. In this event, it’s important to supply detailed medical records such as x-rays, MRIs, and blood tests. If you’re in the United States, read the Disability Benefits Center’s article for further information on the process. For those in Canada, read more about the Disability Tax Credit for arthritis sufferers.

Final Word

Rheumatoid arthritis can be a debilitating disease that may arise due to a combination of genetic and environment factors. In order to prevent severe pain and other issues, it’s important to start treatment early to encourage remission. Be sure to visit your doctor if you have consistent pain and swelling in your joints. To reduce your chances of getting RA, leading a healthy lifestyle is necessary. This involves quitting smoking, managing or losing weight, and limiting exposure to pollutants. Unsure of where to start? Follow these tips to create a healthy lifestyle and try these top 10 healthy recipes for dinner!

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IMPORTANT NOTE: The above information is intended to increase awareness of health information and does not suggest treatment or diagnosis. This information is not a substitute for individual medical attention and should not be construed to indicate that use of the drug is safe, appropriate, or effective for you. See your health care professional for medical advice and treatment.


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