What are the causes of rheumatoid arthritis?

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RA Causes

Dr. Samuel Whittle
Rheumatologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide

We don’t know what causes rheumatoid arthritis exactly. We know that it’s an abnormality of the immune system that causes inflammation in the joints and we think that this is a combination of genetic risk factors as well as some chance and also something in the environment although probably the environmental trigger is different for different people and there is no one particular trigger that seems to cause rheumatoid arthritis in everyone.

Assoc. Professor Peter Youssef
Rheumatologist, Royal Prince Alfred Institute of Rheumatology and Orthopaedics, Sydney
Chair – Arthritis Australia Scientific Advisory Committee

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown but about 30% of the risk is genetic, 70% of the risk is environmental, and the most important environmental factor that we can modify is in fact cigarette smoking. So smokers not only are at an increased risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis but they can get more severe disease and they respond less well to treatment.

Dr. Mona Marabani
President, Australian Rheumatology Association

A very important risk factor that’s totally avoiding of course is smoking. So if we could stop people from smoking we could prevent a lot of rheumatoid arthritis that way. But there isn’t a simple, single cause that we can put our finger on. Well, rheumatoid arthritis can be quite a default disease to explain but the bottom line is it’s related to the immune system, which malfunctions in a way that means that your own cells are attacking your joint tissues. And over a period of time if that’s not controlled it erodes through cartilage which sits at the end of each bone in a joint and can actually erode through into the bone and cause damage and deformity. And that’s the thing that is critical to avoid.


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Click on to find a list of links to organisations around the world that help with issues relating to all types of arthritis.

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