Although genes can play a part in your risk of developing an autoimmune disease, they are not the only factor.
Many health conditions include “genetics” or family history as risk factors. This means that you have a greater chance of developing the disease yourself.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that causes your immune system and healthy tissues to attack your joints. Although genetics is a risk factor for RA, it’s not the only thing that can cause the disease. In some cases, genetics may have little or no effect on whether a person develops RA.
“There are there some genes transmitted from one family member to another that might predispose you to RA,” says Jonathan Greer, MD, a rheumatologist with Arthritis & Rheumatology Associates of Palm Beach and medical advisor to CreakyJoints. But having the genes does not guarantee that you will develop RA.
Is RA genetic? But what about hereditary? What are your chances of getting RA if there is a family member with it? This is what you need to know to understand the genetic component of RA. It includes what it means and how it can affect your overall risk.
First, what do genetic and hereditary mean?
To describe health conditions that are passed from one family member (like a parent to their children), the terms “genetic” or “hereditary” are often used interchangeably. But technically, there is a difference between the terms.
- A genetic condition refers to a situation that is caused by a gene mutation. These mutations can be passed down through the family’s DNA. Other times they occur randomly or due to any external or environmental factor.
- On the other hand, a hereditary condition is passed from parent to child by genetic makeup. Congenital diseases are not “naturally” occurring, i.e., external or environmental factors cause them.
Also, a hereditary condition can be considered genetic. However, not all genetic diseases are genetic.
Is Rheumatoid arthritis genetic or hereditary?
Okay, here’s the tricky part: The answer is both…and neither!
RA can either be caused by an inherited or random mutation of a gene. Although RA genes can be passed down from family members, many cases of RA are not related to any family history. Likewise, although most people with RA have specific genetic markers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will develop RA.
Robert Koval MD, a Texas Orthopedics-based rheumatologist, estimates that the risk of developing RA is between 1% to 2% in the general population. However, if you have a family history, it may increase your risk or even triple. This still leaves you with a chance of a mere 10%.
Dr. Koval informs Health that although the odds are in your favor, you should be aware of symptoms if you have a history of them.
He points out that RA is more common in identical twins who share 50% of their genes than non-identical ones. However, it’s still shallow. Even if one twin has RA, there is less than a 15% chance the other will.
Overall, about 60% of RA cases can be traced back to inheritability versus other factors, according to the UK’s National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a 60% chance to develop RA if there is a family history. The individual risk is lower.
What Genes can Cause RA?
Over 100 genes could be responsible for triggering RA. Some may be inherited, while others might occur naturally.
Researchers have found four genetic markers that are linked to RA.
- The most critical risk factor for RA is HLA-DR4, which increases your chances of developing RA five times more than someone who doesn’t have it.
- STAT4, a gene that regulates the immune system.
- Chronic inflammation is known to be caused by the genes TRAF1 or C5.
- PTPN22 may be a trigger for RA and can affect its progression.
Dr. Greer states that a variety of genes can cause RA. This means that if you have RA genetically, you may not get the disease. Many changes can occur in your body.
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If RA isn’t always genetic, then what causes it?
People with RA have some genetic traits in common. This suggests that you are predisposed to the disease. However, the chances of developing RA in an individual are meager.
External factors play a significant role in making the genetic possibility of RA a reality. These include:
RA is more common in women than in men. This means that being a female with the right genes can increase your chance of getting RA. Per Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, about 75% of RA patients are female.
Dr. Koval says that RA can occur at any age. However, there are some patterns. He explains that RA is most common in females around the time of menopause. “It’s also widespread for 20-year-olds due to hormonal changes.” “RA can be present at any age, including after childbirth and the major hormonal shift it causes within the first six months. Dr. Greer also notes that RA can be a risk for people in their 80s and 70s due to the decline of the immune system.
This broad category includes everything, from diet to illness to exposure to toxic substances. However, the single most significant lifestyle risk factor is smoking, especially if you are a heavy smoker or have smoked for more than 20 years, according to the Mayo Clinic. (Smoking can also increase your RA symptoms, BTW, as the Arthritis Foundation points out.)
The bottom line
Genes are a crucial piece of the RA puzzle. We know that many genes are linked to RA and that any one of them could increase your risk of developing the disease. These genes can be passed down from one generation to another, or they may appear randomly in some cases. However, genes are only one piece of the puzzle.
Dr. Greer says, “It’s complicated.” “If you have a patient with predispositions and they come in contact with an environment stimulus, it can trigger the illness.”
Whether RA is genetic or hereditary is a matter of debate. A family history of RA can slightly increase your chances of getting the disease, but it is not guaranteed. RA can be caused by a combination of genetic factors and other factors, such as age, gender, and lifestyle.