Rheumatoid Arthritis – or RA – is an autoimmune disease affecting approximately 2-3% of the population in Australia and New Zealand. The immune system starts attacking joints, causing inflammation and joint damage. The underlying cause is not fully understood. However, a number of risk factors have been identified which can increase the chances of RA. Knowing what these risk factors are, just how much is in your control to prevent or reduce the risk of flare ups or worsening of RA?
For RA, we know is that a combination of genetics (e.g., family history, female gender) and certain environmental , dietary and lifestyle factors can increase the risks of developing RA. These include smoking, obesity, poor oral health and low fish intake.
If you have a family history of RA, but currently don’t have any symptoms, you might be interested in knowing your chances of developing the condition. Unfortunately, predicting the development of RA is still in its early days. If we look at the way we approach heart disease, doctors can assess your risk by looking at things such as your blood pressure, your cholesterol level, and whether you smoke or not, among other things. By doing this, they can identify those risk factors and make recommendations to help reduce your likelihood of developing heart disease.
However, for RA, because the underlying causes are not fully understood, the ability of your doctor to accurately predict your chances of developing RA is difficult. Extensive research is currently underway to identify a reliable prediction method. Some research suggests that the appearance of specific biomarkers - a measurable molecule in the body that signals the presence of a disease – could predict the possibility of developing of RA. These include auto-antibodies to Rheumatoid Factor (RF) and particularly, antibodies to citrullinated protein antigens (ACPAs). Before you head off to the doctor and ask for a test for these biomarkers, you need to know that the technology is not quite there yet. Watch this space!
What can you really do?
There is no single fix unfortunately to prevent RA. However, one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk, is to quit smoking. It is also critical to see your doctor at the first signs of joint pain, stiffness or swelling for a proper diagnosis. RA is a chronic condition and those living with it may need ongoing treatment to help reduce the signs and symptoms and to help you keep active.
Last reviewed 01/10/2019
-RA Xplained: a free app that explains rheumatoid arthritis through storytelling
-Arthritis New Zealand
-The Joint Movement®️