Updated 25 March 2019

Causes of rheumatoid arthritis

What causes people to get rheumatoid arthritis? Studies have shown that genetically inherited factors seem to play a part.

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.  

Immune reaction

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 pose a threat to the body at all.



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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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