Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory arthritis that affects multiple synovial lined joints. The natural history of the condition is one of progressive articular damage leading to joint deformation and disabilities. RA is associated with a number of co-morbidities particularly in the cardiovascular system. The prevalence of RA seems to be relatively uniform around the world. The risk of developing RA does however vary between ethnic populations in the same global region, demonstrating a genetic component to this disease. The prevalence of RA in the general population is less than 1% but rises to between 2 – 4% in siblings of RA patients.
Gender and genes largely determine a person’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. While the specific cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, it is believed that individuals with the HLA-DR1 or HLA-DR4 alleles have an increased risk for developing the disorder. However, genetics alone are not enough to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis; various lab tests, and x-rays, as well as characteristic signs and symptoms, are generally used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. Genetic testing can contribute to a better understanding of the origin of the disease for improved diagnosis and treatment.