Rheumatoid Arthritis: Research into the Risk Factors

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a potentially debiliating autoimmune disorder that causes the joints and other tissues to become painfully inflamed.

The exact causes of most forms of arthritis are unknown. What has been found is that both genetic and environmental factors seem to play a role in the development of rheumatoid arhtritis and experiments and research continues into what might increase people’s chances of developing arthritis.

It may even be that genetics may have less to do with developing rheumatoid arthritis than was originally believed. Anders Svendsen and colleagues, in a study designed to compare environmental and genetic causes of RA that involved 37,000 twins found that RA is no more common in identical twins than in non-identical twins which suggests environment could play a bigger role in causing RA than genetics.

Environment and Arthritis

Many researchers believe that some types of environments or something occuring in the environment serve to trigger RA in people whose genetic makeup makes them susceptible to the diease.

According to one study by Swedish researchers children who develop a serious infection during the first year of life may have an increased risk of developing arthritis. Researchers monitored the health of over 3,500 people over a period of thirty years and it was found that those admitted to hospital with infections during the first year of life had double the chances of developing RA as a young adult. Serious infections in the first twelve months of life also increased the risk of juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a form of arthritis that only affects children and teenagers.

Occupation and Arthritis

In the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy, Swedish researchers reported that occupational exposure to motor oil could increase the risk of men developing RA by as much as 60%.  This study in the form of a questionnaire, involved 1,400+ people who had been diagnosed with RA and almost 1700 people who did not have arthritis but who were selected on the bases of similarity of age, gender and status. Volunteers were asked questions relating to exposure to motor oil, hydraulic oil and asphalt among other things.  It was found that men who were exposed to mineral oils had a 30% greater risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Although the reason behind this increased risk has not been ascertained, researchers believe the oils could trigger immune activity in the lymph nodes and this may eventually lead to inflammation in the joints.

Other studies have found a significant increase in the risk of developing RA from exposure to silica.

Food Allergies and Arthritis

Food allergies have also been found to aggravate RA. Scientific studies from the UK and abroad suggest a good percentage of people with RA who eat foods they are allergic to, experience significantly more stiffness, pain, tender and swollen joints.

Scientists at the Karolinsa Institute have found that factors in the working environment can lead to the dvelopment of RA. Professor Lars Klareskog and Professor Alfredsson found a clear correlation between RA and jobs in which people cannot control their own situation. This study is soon to be publised in Psychotherapy and psychosomatics.

It has been found that the occrrence of RA differs throughout the world, for instance RA is rare in less developed and rural parts of the world. Not a single case of RA was found in one large study in Nigeria. It is also rare in China and Indonesia.

Combined, studies on the causes of RA are showing that RA is likely to be the result of a number of factors including possible injury or infection, food or chemical sensitivities, acid-alkaline imbalance, toxic accumulation, food or chemical sensitivities and genetic susceptibility. Research helps to further understand the causes of RA, the disease process and to develop possible treatments.


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