Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Hereditary?

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) you may wonder if you inherited it from one of your parents or if you'll pass it along to your own children. Strictly speaking, neither scenario is the case: RA is not an inherited condition. However, a person's individual genetic make-up can increase the risk of developing RA. Researchers have found genetic markers in people with this autoimmune disorder that are tied to chronic inflammation, the immune system, and the disease itself.

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Family History and Genetics

If you have a close relative with RA, you are at an increased risk of developing the condition. Some research estimates that genetics make up about 60% of the risk. However, it's not as simple as "my mom had it so I'll have it." Instead, one or both of your parents may have had a particular genetic makeup (not a single gene or genetic mutation) that put them at-risk for RA, and they may have passed that risk on to you.

It generally takes more than genetics to trigger RA, though. Environmental and lifestyle factors contribute, as well. Certain infections, injury, long-term cigarette smoking, exposure to certain dusts or fibers, obesity, stress, and many more factors, when combined with genetics, may up the odds of RA developing in you. .

More than 100 genes are linked to or suspected of being linked to RA. The most significant ones are variations of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes. Those genes produce proteins that help the immune system tell different kinds of cells apart—specifically, distinguishing viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders from healthy cells.

Along with HLA genes, some of the genetic markers known to increase the risk of developing RA include:

  • STAT4: Helps regulate and activate the immune system
  • TRAF1 and C5: Contribute to chronic inflammation
  • PTPN22: Linked to onset and progression of RA

Some people with RA test positive for some or all of these genetic markers while other people are negative.

Family history increases the risk of RA but most patients with family members affected by the disease do not get the illness and most patients who develop RA do not have a family history.

In addition to having certain genetic markers, many people with RA (but not all) test positive for rheumatoid factor (RF) and antinuclear antibodies (ANA), substances that attack proteins inside cells. They're linked to autoimmunity in general and to many cases of RA.

Should Your Children Be Tested?

Although blood tests can help diagnose arthritis by detecting the genetic markers HLA-B27, RF, and ANA, most healthcare providers do not recommend screening children for the disease. Says rheumatologist Scott J. Zashin, MD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School:

"I do not recommend testing the blood of children without clinical symptoms whose parents have arthritis. These children are more likely to test positive for rheumatoid factor, ANA, and HLA-B27 and never develop the rheumatologic condition. Typically, no more than 10 percent of children from a parent with arthritis will develop a similar problem. On the other hand, if a child presents with the signs and symptoms of chronic arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or ankylosing spondylitis, then it is quite reasonable to obtain the appropriate lab work."

A Word From Verywell

The bottom line is that you shouldn't feel like you need to have your children tested for markers of rheumatoid arthritis because no matter what the results are, you won't truly know whether they'll eventually have RA. If they're showing arthritis warning signs, however, definitely talk to your healthcare provider about testing.

Because your RA (or another close relative's) means your child already has an elevated risk, make sure they know about the controllable risk facts, such as cigarette smoking, so they can take steps throughout their life to keep their risk as low as possible.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kurkó J, Besenyei T, Laki J, et al. Genetics of rheumatoid arthritis - a comprehensive reviewClin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2013;45(2):170-179. doi:10.1007/s12016-012-8346-7

  2. National Institutes of Health: U.S. National Library of Medicine. Rheumatoid arthritis.

  3. Cleveland Clinic: healthessentials. Is arthritis hereditary?

Additional Reading
  • Answer provided by Scott J. Zashin, M.D., clinical assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Division of Rheumatology, in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Zashin is also an attending physician at Presbyterian Hospitals of Dallas and Plano. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Rheumatology and a member of the American Medical Association. Dr. Zashin is the author of Arthritis Without Pain - The Miracle of Anti-TNF Blockers and co-author of Natural Arthritis Treatment.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer covering arthritis and chronic illness, who herself has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.