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Several risk factors contribute to the development of arthritis, a disease characterized by inflammation of joints. This article outlines risk factors that can predispose an individual to developing different forms of arthritis.

Arthritis, which refers a disease characterized by joint inflammation, is a painful and debilitating disorder that is associated with joint stiffness and pain.

There are more than a 100 different subtypes of arthritis, the major categories of which include degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis), inflammatory arthritis, infectious (septic) arthritis and metabolic arthritis (gout). Each of these come with their own set of risk factors that can predispose an individual to the disease. However, several risk factors are common to various arthritis subtypes.

It is known that there is no one single factor that causes arthritis, but that a number of different risk factors "work together" to contribute to the development of the disease. Some of these risk factors are modifiable, while others are not.

These are some of the known risk factors that can work together to predispose an individual to developing arthritis:

  1. Genetics and family history. You can inherit certain genes from your family members that make it more likely that you will develop arthritis. These genes can either directly impact the development of arthritis by working at a molecular level, or it can make you more susceptible to environmental factors that trigger arthritis. Hence, arthritis can run in families and you are more likely to get arthritis if your parents or siblings have it. For example, genetic markers known as HLA-B27 or HLA-DR4 are linked to the development of rheumatoid arthritis. The most common genetic forms of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and ankylosing spondylitis.
  2. Age. Generally, the risk of arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout, increases as a patient gets older. This occurs due the fact that cartilage (which is the cushion that lines your joint) becomes more brittle over time, breaks down and has a reduced ability to repair itself. Therefore, arthritis subtypes such as osteoarthritis are generally seen between the ages of 40 and 50, though symptoms can start earlier in some patients.
  3. Weight. It is well-known that individuals that are either overweight or obese are more likely to develop arthritis. This is because having extra weight adds more stress on joints, particularly your knees, hips and spine. In these cases, the excess weight can directly impact the joint and cause inflammation that gradually breaks down joint tissues. This is a modifiable risk factor and physicians will often encourage patients to lose weight in order to improve their condition.
  4. Gender. Epidemiological studies have shown that women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, while other types of arthritis (particularly, gout) are more common in men. However, in general, 60 percent of all patients that develop arthritis are women.
  5. History of joint injury. Patients who have experienced an injury to their joint, such as during a sport, are more likely to develop arthritis in their joint later on in their life.
  6. History of joint damage. Patients that have experienced damage to their joints can have irregularities in the normal, smooth joint surface. Therefore, studies have shown that prior cases of injury play a role in the development of arthritis. This is especially true for damage to the wrist joints as the complicated bone and cartilage structure in wrists can easily be compromised by impact or compression. Other types of damage to the joint that can lead to the development of arthritis include a tibial plateau facture (in which a broken area of bone comes into the cartilage of the knee joint).
  7. Occupation. Jobs that involve repetitive motion or manual labor can predispose an individual to developing arthritis. Therefore, institutions may put in place protective measures to reduce the effects of damage that can be caused by manual labor such as heavy lifting and activities that demand constant use of a joint. In fact, even something simple such as pulling a lever or pushing a cart for several years can cause the bones and joint to deteriorate. In particular, jobs that require constant knee bending or squatting have been shown to lead to the development of arthritis.
  8. High-level sports. Sports, particularly ones that involve a blunt force impact or damage to the bone or joint, can lead to the development of arthritis. Furthermore, aside from contact sports, even something like long-distance running, which places constant impact stress on a joint, can lead to arthritis. However, routine exercise can actually help reduce the symptoms or development of arthritis by improving the muscular structure around the joint and increasing the support in that area.
  9. Infections. One particular type of arthritis known as infectious or septic arthritis is caused by bacterial or viral infection. These infections lead to the deterioration of cartilage and inflammation of the synovial fluid. Therefore, patients who have experienced a joint infection, multiple episodes of gout and recurrent staph infections have a higher risk of developing arthritis.
  10. Smoking. Studies have shown that arthritis is more common and more severe in patients who smoke. Therefore, quitting smoking can help reduce the risk of developing arthritis in the future.
  11. Diet. No types of food have actually been linked to the development of arthritis. However, there are foods that can worsen inflammation and lead to pain. Foods in this category include sugary foods, saturated fats (found in cheese and red meats), and refined carbohydrates (such as white rice and bread).

  • Kaandorp, Carola JE, et al. "Risk factors for septic arthritis in patients with joint disease." Arthritis & Rheumatism 38.12 (1995): 1819-1825.
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  • Dunlop, Dorothy D., et al. "Risk factors for functional decline in older adults with arthritis." Arthritis & Rheumatism 52.4 (2005): 1274-1282.
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  • Voigt, Lynda F., et al. "Smoking, obesity, alcohol consumption, and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis." Epidemiology (1994): 525-532.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth.com

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