Rheumatoid Arthritis by the Numbers: Facts and Statistics

Risk Factors of RA

Experts don’t know what causes RA, but research seems to suggest that you are at a higher risk for developing RA if you are:

  • Genetically disposed to RA
  • Exposed to harmful chemicals, including smoking
  • Experienced significant hormonal imbalances
  • An imbalance of intestinal microbes, resulting from infection or other illness


The genetics involved in the development of RA are complex, but from what researchers know, heritability increases your risk for RA by 60% and a having an HLA gene (one genetic risk factor for RA) increases your risk from 11 to 37%, this according to a 2013 report in Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology.

While having a close family member with RA increases your risk, RA is not an inherited disease, your predisposition to it is.


An exact link between nicotine and RA is unknown, but researchers confirm prolonged smoking can lead to an increased rheumatoid factor, the main antibody (protein) responsible for the development of RA. The presence of a rheumatoid factor indicates your immune system is not functioning properly.

One 2013 study published in Arthritis Research and Therapy finds that even light smoking can increase your risk for RA. Moreover, a woman’s risk is doubled by smoking.

If you quit smoking, your chances of developing RA decrease and continue to decrease over time. Smoking is also associated with higher disease activity and quitting can improve symptoms and reduce your risk for complications.

Hormonal Imbalances

The fact more women get RA suggests hormones are at play in the development of the disease. The idea is supported by the idea that RA gets better during pregnancy and worsens following childbirth.


There is also evidence that irregular periods and early menopause may increase a women’s risk of developing RA. Researchers also think natural hormone fluctuations, hormone medications, and birth control are additional disease triggers.


Low testosterone levels in men may also increase the risk for the development of RA later in life, this according to researchers from the Lund University in Sweden.

Infections and Microbe Imbalances

In recent years, researchers have been looking at connections between bacterial and viral infections and development of RA. Many believe specific infections may be linked to RA, including chronic hepatitis C and gingivitis.

Moreover, a person’s microbes (good and bad microorganisms located throughout the body) may promote the development of RA.

More research is needed to confirm any specific connections between infection, microbes and RA development.

Disease Severity

The same risk factors for RA also affect the severity of the disease. Doctors access the severity of the disease as mild, moderate or severe.

Your doctor will determine disease severity based on:

  • How active the disease is
  • How much functional impairment there is
  • Any physical damage

There is little research and clinical evidence on disease severity types and prevalence of severity types. It seems, however, the worst cases of RA are in people who have a progressive and more severe form of the disease.

Progressive RA advances and causes persistent inflammation and worsening pain. It requires aggressive treatment and is largely dependent on it the risk factors leading to the development of the disease.

Next page: What are the complications of RA? Continue to learn more about what this means for you.

Previous 1 2 3 Next
Click here to see comments