Nine Possible Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis


Smoking is perhaps the one risk factor of RA that is controllable, as all others are factors are that one cannot change.

The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society states that smoking with RA can be especially dangerous because it increases the risk of the disease activity beginning to occur outside of the joints. This can include problems with blood vessels, the lungs and include nodules. Many rheumatologists advise that patients quit smoking entirely.

Additionally, the risk of death due to a complication associated with RA shoots way up with smokers, meaning it is probably best not to take up smoking.

However, the problem lies within the fact that many people find smoking soothing to their joints and that it offers temporary relief to the pain caused by RA.

Everyday stressors can be hard to cope with leading people to search for an easy escape. Add chronic illness to the mix and these stressors can increase making it harder – for smokers – to quit. For that reason, many people with RA will continue to smoke despite the evidence to suggest its danger to those with the condition.

Having a good support system and medical team, however, can help motivate a patient to change their lives around in order to thrive and live well with the condition.

Job Stress

New evidence shows certain jobs may increase some workers’ risk for developing RA, this according to findings reported in Arthritis Care & Research.  

Jobs that are labor intensive or expose someone to chemicals, increase a person’s risk for developing RA up to three times more than office jobs.


Other environmental triggers in the workforce such as mold and bad air ventilation in office buildings can slowly wreak havoc on a person genetically sensitive. Existing chronic patients on medication that lowers the immune system can be greatly impacted as well.

Psych Central stated that “long-lasting stress may lead to pro-inflammatory effects because no adequate long-term anti-inflammatory responses are available.”

Whether stress is from a job, personal matters or some traumatic event, the underlying theme is that over time it puts the body in overdrive, spiking cortisol which leads to burnout. An increase in cortisol drives the inflammatory process even further.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is known to be a factor in the development of several physical, mental and emotional difficulties, as stated by Healthline.

The link between RA and trauma is still unclear. Several reasons have been studied such as pre-existing mental and emotional conditions, mourning the loss of a healthier time period in one’s life, and dealing with every day of chronic pain and inflammation.

Dr. Yvonne C. Lee and colleagues from Harvard Medical School in Boston found that “women who had four or more symptoms of PTSD were also at a higher risk for developing RA compared with those who had no or little exposure to any kind of trauma.”

Other studies by different doctors and researchers have shown RA may be associated with traumatic physical events, such as a car accident or surgery. The research reported in the journal, Rheumatology, finds the onset can be from as early as six months to two years after the trauma.

Veterans who have worked in the military also have shown signs of inflammatory disease, leading to more evidence of the PTSD connection theory.

A study done in 2015, by Joseph A. Boscarino, Ph.D., of the Geisinger Clinic in Pennsylvania said that the link between veterans being diagnosed with PTSD and RA, “could be a potential piece of the complex puzzle surrounding autoimmunity.”

Air Pollution and Other Toxins

Several studies have connected an increased risk for the development of RA to areas with high traffic and smoke pollution, such as major cities.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “RA was found to be higher in urban areas. Living near air pollution emitters was associated with higher risks of developing RA and of producing RA-specific autoantibodies.”

Researchers don’t know exactly what connects pollution to RA, but they think it increases the risk of inflammation.

They go on to state that, “air pollution not only triggers innate immune responses at the molecular level, increasing the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and reactive oxygen species, but is also involved in adaptive immune responses.”

This gives a clear indication that the environment we live in can impact our health, even when we are not aware of it immediately.

Toxins, including insecticides, have also been linked with the development of RA.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes: Overview

RA is often referred to as a jigsaw puzzle, or perhaps even “the perfect storm.” Several different risk factors may need to be present in order to develop rheumatoid arthritis.


U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (Genetics of Rheumatoid Arthritis — A Comprehensive Review)

Archives of Rheumatology (Current Advances in the Genetic Basis of Rheumatoid Arthritis)

U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (Why are women predisposed to autoimmune rheumatic diseases?)

U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (Smoking and Rheumatoid Arthritis)

eLife Sciences (Expansion of intestinal Prevotella copri correlates with enhanced susceptibility to arthritis)

Hopkins Medicine (Researchers Add to Evidence That Common Bacterial Cause of Gum Disease May Drive Rheumatoid Arthritis)

Wiley Online Library(Occupation and Risk of Developing Rheumatoid Arthritis: Results from a Population‐Based Case – Control Study)

U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (Molecular Mimicry as a Mechanism of Autoimmune Disease)

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (Gut Microbes Linked to Rheumatoid Arthritis)

Arthritis Foundation (Mouth and Other Bacteria May Trigger RA)

Colgate (What Are Dentin Tubules?)

American Association of Endodontists (Myths About Root Canals)

U.S. News & World Report (Do Female Sex Hormones Contribute to Rheumatoid Arthritis?)

U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (Management of rheumatoid arthritis during pregnancy: challenges and solutions)

Psych Central (Job Stress Linked to Rheumatoid Arthritis)

Healthline (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Potential Piece to the RA Puzzle?)

U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (Air Pollution as a determinant of rheumatoid arthritis)

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