Is Arthritis Hereditary?

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There is no simple answer to whether or not arthritis is hereditary. This group of rheumatic diseases includes 100 different types of arthritis, with the two most common being rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Each type has different causes and risk factors as well as triggers and early warning signs. While some types carry a genetic component, experts say we can’t ignore the other factors at play. So what type of arthritis is hereditary, and what are your personal risk factors? Those answers are detailed below. 

Osteoarthritis 

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 32.5 million US adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is sometimes called ‘wear-and-tear’ arthritis because it develops as the cartilage between joints breaks down, leading to bone rubbing against bone. 

This causes pain, tenderness, stiffness, and swelling, and can progress to limiting your range of motion. This most commonly impacts the joints in the hands, knees, and hips. Although cartilage loss results from osteoarthritis, it is not the cause of this degenerative disease.

Risk factors include age, genetics, obesity, and injury or repeat stress to joints. Aging is the most consistently identified risk factor for osteoarthritis, regardless of the joint being studied.

However, it’s well-recognized that females are more likely to experience osteoarthritis of the hand and polyarticular and isolated knee osteoarthritis, whereas hip osteoarthritis occurs more commonly in males.

Having family members with osteoarthritis is also known to increase your risk. The Cleveland Clinic says around 40% to 65% of osteoarthritis has a genetic component, with a stronger link for hand and hip cases.

So is osteoarthritis hereditary? Studies on identical and non-identical twins have associated certain gene variations with an increased risk of developing the degenerative condition, although no single gene for osteoarthritis has been found.

Maintaining a healthy weight and protecting your joints is important in preventing excess pressure on the joints. Treatment for osteoarthritis includes lifestyle changes like increasing physical activity, using walking support devices, and engaging in physical therapy. 

Pharmaceutical options for reducing pain and inflammation are also available, as well as total joint replacement in necessary cases.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common type of autoimmune and inflammatory arthritis affecting over 1.3 million Americans. It may first present as fatigue and has symptoms including low-grade fever, inflammation, pain, loss of appetite, and firm lumps or rheumatoid nodules under the skin in the elbow and hand areas.

With this type of arthritis, the immune system is mistakenly attacking healthy joint tissues. This means other tissues and organs including the lungs, eyes, and heart can also be affected. This damage can lead to additional problems including long-lasting chronic pain, unsteadiness, and deformity. 

Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects both sides of the body at once. For example, both hands or both knees. Early detection and treatment have shown promise in reducing the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on quality of life.

Is rheumatoid arthritis hereditary? The exact cause is still unknown but this type of arthritis is recognized as hereditary because certain genes you are born with are associated with risk level.

According to a comprehensive review of the genetics of rheumatoid arthritis, the heritability of Rheumatoid Arthritis has been estimated to be about 60%, and the contribution of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) to heritability has been estimated to be 11–37%.

Experts say a person’s risk may be highest when these genes are combined with smoking and/or being overweight. Other factors that can contribute to the likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis include age, sex, history of live birth, and early exposures. 

While rheumatoid arthritis can be triggered at any age, the likelihood of onset increases with age and peaks during your 60s. New cases are typically two-to-three times higher in females than males. People who have never given birth and children of lower-income parents have also shown an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Other Types of Arthritis 

Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a rare form of chronic inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine, causing back and hip pain and stiffness and leading to eventual spinal fusion. It is not a purely genetic disease, although it’s possible for more than one family member to develop and iheritability is known as a significant contributing factor. 

The HLA-B27 gene variant (a protein associated with the immune system) is a marker that has been found in 95% of people with ankylosing spondylitis. However, the Cleveland Clinic suggests it’s more complex than any one gene as they say there are more than 60 genes associated with the condition. 

Other risk factors can include exposure to certain infections, stress and injury, changes to your colon bacteria, and bowel inflammation or ulcerative colitis. Males are at greater risk than females.

Fibromyalgia 

Fibromyalgia is a hereditary syndrome that involves excessive fatigue, muscle and joint pain, sensitivities, and depression. It primarily affects females.  

Studies have shown genes potentially involved in fibromyalgia pathogenesis and highlight that genetic factors are possibly responsible for up to 50% of disease susceptibility.

Lupus 

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that develops from a complex intersection of environmental factors and hormones and genes. 

Certain genes have been associated with the occurrence of lupus, but cause-and-effect is still unknown. That being said, siblings of individuals with the disease are about 20 times more likely to develop lupus than the general population.

Gout

Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis caused by hyperuricemia where uric acid crystals form in the tissues and fluids around joints—particularly the big toe. 

Susceptibility to this type of arthritis is hereditary, although it is not the only factor. Being male, being obese, consuming alcohol and/or high fructose beverages, and having a diet high in purine all make it more likely to develop hyperuricemia.  

When To See a Doctor

Always let your doctor know if you have a family history of arthritis. Know that early warning signs of arthritis vary by type of condition, but symptoms commonly include a combination of pain, swelling, stiffness, redness, weakness, and fatigue.

It’s normal to occasionally experience these symptoms. However, when pain doesn’t subside on its own after a few days, interferes with everyday activities, or steadily gets worse, it’s time to contact your doctor.

Should you consider a genetic test? Genetic testing can indicate and rule out certain genetic markers for arthritis, but it can’t determine for sure whether or not you will develop one or more of the 100 types of arthritis. 

A Word From Verywell


Even if you have a genetic predisposition to developing arthritis or other rheumatic diseases, there are actions you can take to reduce your risk and disease severity. Early detection and treatment play a positive role on overall outcome. Talk to your doctor the best options regarding lifestyle modifications, medications, and therapies. 

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