Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that can cause disabling joint destruction and deformation. Treatment involves the use of drugs designed to modify the body’s autoimmune response in order to diminish symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. However, not everyone responds to the medications, and the drugs are not without serious side effects.
Researchers continue to seek better drug treatments, or even a cure. But is it possible to prevent RA altogether?
[See: How to Practice Yoga When You Have Arthritis or Another Chronic Condition.]
The short answer is no. There is no available vaccine or other intervention that can prevent RA. One of the reasons for this is because no one knows why some people develop RA, and the disease appears to have several triggers.
“Different pathways lead to the development of RA,” says Dr. Kristen Demoruelle, a rheumatologist specializing in RA in Denver, Colorado.
Research has shown that several characteristics are known to increase the likelihood of developing RA. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the main risk factors are:
- Age. RA can begin at any age, but chances of developing the disease increase with age, and most new cases are diagnosed in adults in their 60s.
- Gender. RA is about three times more prevalent in women than in men.
- Genetics. There can be a genetic predisposition to RA, particularly in people who have a first-degree relative – parent, sibling or child – with the disease.
- Smoking. Multiple studies show that cigarette smoking increases a person’s risk of developing RA and can make the disease worse.
- Early exposure. Early exposure may also be a factor. For example, one study found that the children of mothers who smoked had twice the risk of developing RA as adults.
- Childbearing history. Women who have never given birth may have a greater chance of developing RA than women who have given birth.
- Obesity. Obesity can increase the risk of developing RA, and the more overweight one is, the higher the risk.