The specific cause of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) isn’t known, but studies have shown that genetically inherited factors seem to play a part, although everyone with a genetic predisposition will not develop the disease.
Scientists are investigating possible environmental triggers in people predisposed to the disease, as well as possible hormonal triggers. Although no definite answers have been found, it’s likely that RA develops as a result of an interaction of many factors, which trigger an immune reaction against the body’s synovial tissue.
Inflammation is a immune reaction aimed at destroying something that is threatening the body, such as bacteria, but unfortunately, in the case of RA, the immune reaction is against the synovial tissue in the joints, which does not hold a threat to the body at all.
Reviewed by Dr Stella Botha, rheumatologist at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town (MBChB, MRCP, PhD), November 2017.