Doctors and researchers have not pointed out what exactly causes rheumatoid arthritis. What they found out, though, is that rheumatoid arthritis can be caused by any one or a combination of hormonal, environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors.1,2
The Link Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Your Hormones
It’s yet to be determined what hormone-related causes are responsible for rheumatoid arthritis, but the fact that RA is more prevalent among women compared to men says something.
According to early studies, oral contraceptives that have doses of the progestin hormone or a combination of progestin and another hormone estrogen are connected to cases of rheumatoid arthritis.
But recent studies have yet to confirm whether or not this relation stands true. This could be because higher levels of the hormone estrogen were reported during the 1960s, compared to the 80 to 90 percent lower amounts reported today.3
Pregnancy was also shown to be a RA risk factor, with symptoms flaring up and the risk increasing after the baby is delivered, because of the decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels. This happens despite the symptoms being less pronounced during the postovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle and during pregnancy.4
According to a Healthline article, studies have also shown that women had a slight to moderately higher risk of RA if they have never given birth. Breastfeeding is also linked to worsened symptoms of RA among mothers.5
Don’t Let Your Environment Affect Your Chances of Having This Disease
There are also various environmental factors that can cause rheumatoid arthritis, such as exposure to certain kinds of dust or fibers, and viral or bacterial infections. As for lifestyle choices, smoking is the most damaging risk factor of all.
Smokers have a virtual 100 percent chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis and the increased severity of symptoms and pains. It’s been found that smoking can play a role in making your rheumatoid factor (RF) levels rise, which could pave the way for malfunctions in the immune response. This could mean bad news for your joints.
What’s worse, the risk for cardiovascular disease increases as well among RA patients who smoke. Smoking also weakens the effects of RA drugs, rendering them useless.6
Lastly, genetics can play a role in amplifying your risk of rheumatoid arthritis. While genetics are not the end-all and be-all in determining your risk for RA, it does play a part in some way, especially if you have relatives who are already diagnosed with the disease.