Arthritis is a prevalent joint disease with more than 100 variants. The most common symptoms include pain and swelling of the joints. In its more severe forms, the disease impairs joint movement. Arthritis affects people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. However, women and older adults are more likely to have arthritis than other demographics. Statistics show that approximately one out of five Americans are at risk of developing the condition. Even today, medical researchers remain unsure of the exact causes, but there is evidence that genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors all may play a role.
Research shows that people with one or more family members with arthritis have a higher chance of developing the condition than those without a family history. The most important genetic risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis are variations (or mutations) in human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes, particularly the HLA-DRB1 gene. Scientists believe the presence of the gene variation makes patients more likely to develop arthritis, but it does not determine whether or not they will get it. Furthermore, many people with arthritis lack this gene variation.
Does Gender Matter?
Arthritis’ relation to gender is still unclear. Statistics show women are more likely than men to develop certain kinds of arthritis; more than two-thirds of people with rheumatoid arthritis are female. Many experts suspect hormonal changes play a role in this difference. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms usually decrease when a woman becomes pregnant, but often reappear soon after the baby is born. Osteoarthritis is also more common in women than men in older age.
Statistics show that rheumatoid arthritis typically develops when individuals are in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. The chances of developing arthritis increase as individuals age, especially in the case of a degenerative type of arthritis, osteoarthritis. Experts believe decades of wear and tear on the joints and tissues is part of the reason older adults are most likely to develop arthritis.
Weight also appears to be a factor in developing arthritis. Carrying excess weight places increased pressure on the joints, rendering them weaker and more prone to degeneration caused by arthritis. Reducing body mass to reach a healthy weight for one’s body type can reduce the likelihood of developing arthritis, or lessen the severity of symptoms. Diet can, of course, affect weight loss, but certain foods may also ease or exacerbate arthritis symptoms. A review of multiple research studies conducted by the Arthritis Foundation reveals that the Mediterranean diet can help reduce inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and promote a healthy weight.
Lifestyle likely plays a role in the development of arthritis. People with jobs that require them to carry out repetitive or physically stressful tasks could be at a greater risk of developing the condition, for the same reasons that age is a factor. Someone who moves heavy loads in a warehouse or works in an assembly line has an increased chance of joint issues in the future.
Immune System Issues
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that develops when the immune system no longer functions at full efficiency. A healthy immune system fights off disease, but if the system malfunctions, it may begin to misinterpret healthy cells as invaders and attack certain joints. The joints become inflamed, which prompts the symptoms of arthritis. On the other hand, osteoarthritis is a degenerative, age-related type. Recent studies, however, reveal that dysfunctions of the immune system also play a role in osteoarthritis.
Infections that Cause Arthritis
Certain infections, usually bacterial, may lead to arthritis. Doctors call this form of the disease “reactive arthritis”; it is difficult to identify and can affect people of all ages, but it most often affects younger individuals. In some cases, reactive arthritis runs its course in a few weeks, though it can last as long as six months. Treatment includes antibiotics to treat the underlying infection.
Injuries that Trigger Arthritis
Particular injuries may also lead to arthritis. If a limb or joint incurs damage from a sports injury or a car accident, the likelihood of developing arthritis in this area increases. How exactly the disease develops is not clearly understood, but statistics often highlight this correlation.
Smoking and Arthritis
Studies indicate smokers are more likely to develop arthritis than nonsmokers, and more likely to experience increased severity of symptoms. Over the last few years, damage from passive smoking has received considerable media attention, and research has produced evidence of the adverse effects of secondhand smoke, as well. Individuals exposed to a smoker’s outputs may also have an increased risk of arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis.
In recent years, scientist shave linked a wide range of illnesses to environmental contaminants. Recent investigations suggest there could be a link between arthritis and air pollution and pesticides. Additional research is required to better understand the full extent of these factors and their impacts on autoimmune disease.