An estimated 1.3 million people in the United States have RA – that’s almost 1 percent of the nation’s adult population. There are nearly three times as many women as men with the disease. In women, rheumatoid arthritis most commonly begins between the ages of 30 and 60. It often occurs later in life for men. However, even older teens and people in their 20s can get RA. As many as 300,000 children are diagnosed with a distinct but related form of inflammatory arthritis called juvenile arthritis. The disease occurs in all ethnic groups and in every part of the world.

What Causes RA?

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not yet known. Most scientists agree that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is responsible. Researchers have identified genetic markers that cause a tenfold greater probability of developing rheumatoid arthritis. These genes are associated with the immune system, chronic inflammation or the development and progression of RA. Still, not all people with these genes develop rheumatoid arthritis and not all people with the disease have these genes.

Researchers are also investigating infectious agents, such as bacteria or viruses, which may trigger the disease in someone with a genetic propensity for it. Other suspects include female hormones (70 percent of people with RA are women) and the body’s response to stressful events such as physical or emotional trauma. Smoking may also play a role – it not only boosts the risk of developing RA among people with a specific gene, it can also increase the disease’s severity and reduce the effectiveness of treatment.

Research that deepens our understanding of these genes and other factors that may lead to the development of RA is ongoing.

Learn more: How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed and Treated?

RA primarily affects women 30 and older. What does that mean for wanna-be moms?

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