Doctors and researchers have not been able to determine what exactly causes rheumatoid arthritis. What they have discovered, is that rheumatoid arthritis can be caused by any one or a combination of hormonal, environmental, genetic1 and lifestyle factors.2
What Roles Do Hormones Play in RA Development?
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 is notable.3 It has been said that women will have a higher risk of RA if they have never given birth.4
Pregnancy may actually help reduce a woman’s RA risk.5 The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, which is based in the U.K., notes that around 75 percent of pregnant women notice alleviated pain and swelling, particularly during the second trimester.6 These improvements may be traced to the high quantities of hormones like estradiol and progesterone present in the body.7 Once the baby is born, however, RA symptoms may appear once again after a few months.8,9
Some studies have also highlighted that oral contraceptives containing the progestin hormone (or a combination of progestin and estrogen) are connected to cases of rheumatoid arthritis,10 but this link still needs to be fully determined.
Environmental Factors That May Trigger Rheumatoid Arthritis
There are also various environmental factors that can cause rheumatoid arthritis, such as exposure to certain kinds of dust or fibers,11 and viral or bacterial infections.12 As for lifestyle choices, smoking is a very damaging risk factor.13
Smokers have a very high chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis and experiencing more severe symptoms and pain. It’s been found that smoking can play a role in making rheumatoid factor (RF) levels rise.14,15 This may lead to malfunctions in the immune response and increase your risk for RA. Smoking also weakens the effects of drugs commonly used to treat RA,16,17 and increases the risk of RA patients to develop cardiovascular disease as well.18,19