Is Arthritis Hereditary? Understanding factors of Arthritis
Almost 25 percent of Americans have some sort of arthritic condition. These conditions often affect major joints like the knees, limiting mobility and affecting everyday life.
If you have a form of arthritis, you may have wondered whether it’s something that you inherited or something you just developed over time. If you don’t currently have arthritis, you may wonder how likely you are to develop it in the future and if there’s anything you can do to prevent it.
Read on for everything you need to know about what causes arthritis.
What Is Arthritis?
On the most basic level, arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints. It could affect just one knee, one hip, or one shoulder, or it could affect joints all over the body.
How far the effects reach and how painful they are is dependent on what kind of arthritis you have and how far it’s progressed.
What Is a Joint?
Before looking at the different types of arthritis, it might be helpful to define what a joint is. When two more bones come together, they are connected with a combination of cartilage, tendons, and ligaments — this is what makes up a joint.
The body has between 250 and 350 joints, but the main joints are the:
There are several different types of joints, all classified by their range of motion. The joints with the most motion are ball-and-socket joints, like the shoulders. There’s a lot less range of motion in pivot joints like the knees, toes, and fingers.
What Are the Different Types of Arthritis?
So what are the specific types of arthritis, what causes them, and are they hereditary? Read on for a full breakdown of the most common types of arthritis and what you need to know.
The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which affects close to 10 percent of the U.S. population. Osteoarthritis is sometimes called degenerative arthritis because it doesn’t come on all at once, and instead creeps up over time.
Osteoarthritis can cause the cartilage around the bones to degenerate over time from overuse or age.
Some of the major risk factors for osteoarthritis include:
- Age: You’re more likely to develop osteoarthritis after the age of 50.
- Gender: Women are more likely to get osteoarthritis than men.
- Obesity: Gaining extra weight can put more stress on the joints, especially the knees.
- Past joint injuries: A previous surgery or significant injury is a big risk factor.
- Athletics: Repeated stress on joints from activities like playing sports can contribute to osteoarthritis.
- Bone deformities: Having congenital problems involving joints or cartilage can increase your risk.
It’s currently unknown whether or not osteoarthritis is hereditary, but it’s thought that there may be some genetic component involved.
The primary difference between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis is that RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it occurs when the body attacks itself because the immune system is confused.
In the case of RA, the body attacks healthy tissue and damages the lining of joints, which can cause extreme attacks of pain and swelling. Because it’s degenerative, it can get much worse over time, but there are ways to slow it down or even stop it from progressing.
RA is common, as experts estimate that 1.3 million Americans have the condition.
Some of the major risk factors for RA are:
- Age: RA usually affects those aged 60 and above.
- Gender: Women have a two to three times higher risk than men for developing RA.
- Tobacco use:Habitual tobacco use can contribute to RA.
- Obesity: Obesity can play a role in developing RA.
Rheumatologists have found that hereditary factors can often influence autoimmune diseases like RA. If one of your parents or family members has RA, there may be a risk of RA in your future.
Juvenile (Childhood) Arthritis
Arthritis that affects children is usually referred to as juvenile arthritis, but this is an umbrella term for several different types that can affect kids. Like RA, juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where the body mistakenly attacks the healthy tissue around joints, causing painful inflammation.
Most of the major risk factors are environmental in nature, including infections, cigarette smoke exposure, and air pollution.
Juvenile arthritis has some genetic risk, as it can run in families just like RA. Because it’s autoimmune, it can also be triggered by environmental factors. On the positive side, many children outgrow the condition with time.
Unlike other types of joint inflammation conditions, psoriatic arthritis affects both the joints and the skin. About 10 percent of those who are already diagnosed with psoriasis, a painful skin condition that causes irritated patches on the skin, will also develop psoriatic arthritis.
The condition is characterized by flare-ups that cause pain and swelling in the joints.
Some of the major risk factors for psoriatic arthritis include:
- A previous diagnosis of psoriasis
- Tobacco use
- Environmental factors
- Excess stress and anxiety
Psoriatic conditions tend to run in families, and 40 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis have a family member with the condition. Like many hereditary illnesses, genetic markers sometimes work hand-in-hand with environmental factors to contribute to the condition.
Another autoimmune disorder that is arthritic in nature is ankylosing spondylitis (AS). This form of arthritis attacks tendons and ligaments that attach the muscles to the joints.
Unlike other forms of arthritis, this one usually affects the spine and the pelvis. It usually affects men more than women and is generally diagnosed in people who are 30 and younger.
Because the spinal joints and the vertebrae can actually fuse together, it’s possible for the spine to become inflexible. The progression of the disease can eventually lead to stiffening of the rib cage, restricting the ability to breathe.
While smoking can cause a higher risk of developing AS, genetic makeup plays a larger role. If you have specific genes, for example, HLA-B27, then there’s a greatly increased risk of developing AS. Almost 90 percent of people with the HLA gene develop the condition, and it can be passed down.
This condition comes from bacterial, viral, or fungal infections that cause an infectious form of arthritis. This type of arthritis is often localized, meaning that it may only affect the joint where the infection occurred. It can be extremely painful as the joint or joints swell up and become inflamed.
Some of the main risk factors for septic arthritis include:
- Having an artificial joint: For example, undergoing a joint replacement surgery.
- Joint pain or problems: Having other arthritic conditions like Osteoarthritis or RA can increase your risk of developing septic arthritis.
- Being immunocompromised: If you already have a compromised immune system, you may not be able to fight off infections as well.
- Trauma or injury: A bad cut, scratch, or burn can introduce bacteria that can result in an infection that causes septic arthritis.
While most arthritic conditions have at least some risk of genetic predisposition, septic arthritis does not, as it only results from infections caused by environmental factors or injuries.
Gout (Metabolic Arthritis)
A highly painful arthritic condition is gout or metabolic arthritis. This condition is a form of autoimmune inflammatory arthritis that occurs when excess uric acid crystallizes in a joint.
While this can happen to multiple joints in the body, the most common area of pain is the big toe. Gout is characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain that come and go and can be irritated by diet and activity. Pain management for those with gout is often difficult.
Some of the typical risk factors for gout are:
- Diet: What you eat is one of the main contributing factors to developing gout.
- Alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to gout.
- High sugar intake: For example, soda and other sugary drinks can play a role in developing gout.
- A high purine diet: Gout is classically associated with a diet that’s too high in red meat.
- Obesity: Obesity can also play a role in the development of gout.
- Gender: Gout is more common in men aged 30 to 50 and postmenopausal women because of uric acid levels as they age.
- A family history of gout: If you have a relative with gout, you may have an increased chance of developing the condition.
Like osteoarthritis, it’s unclear just how hereditary gout is. It seems to be partly hereditary due to the various genetic and environmental factors involved with its development.
There is an increased risk of susceptibility to gout if you have a relative who has it, but that could also be due to shared environmental factors between families.
Can You Prevent Arthritis?
If you don’t have an arthritic condition but are worried that you may develop one because of your family history, talk to your healthcare provider about preventative measures. You don’t want your quality of life affected by an arthritic condition if it can be avoided.
Some proactive ways to reduce your risk of arthritis today can include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Excess weight can wreak havoc on your body by putting extra strain on your joints. Try to maintain a healthy weight to the best of your ability.
- Stay active: Get into a regular habit of exercising on a daily or at least bi-weekly basis. Get your heart rate up so that blood flows to all the recesses of your body.
- Remaining flexible by stretching: Try a stretching regime to maintain mobility, movement, and range of motion in your joints.
- Trying to avoid injury: Be extra cautious when doing physical activities you don’t do on a regular basis — for example, helping a friend move. Use good body mechanics and try to keep from being injured.
- Quit tobacco: Your lung health is vital to your overall health, and introducing toxins into your body on a consistent basis can raise your risk of developing several kinds of arthritis.
- Keep tabs on your joint care: Make sure you talk to your doctor about ways to prevent developing arthritis and stay on top of your joint health with regular checkups.
The Bottom Line
There are many different forms of arthritis that can affect people of all ages. Although they all work a little differently, many of them are thought to be hereditary.
If you think you may have arthritis, or are concerned about risk factors for arthritis, consult your doctor for more information. They will be able to guide you through any necessary lifestyle changes to minimize your risk or ease your symptoms, and can craft a treatment plan as needed.