4 Ways You Can Reduce Your Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Popping joints and cracking knuckles can be like nails on a chalkboard for some people, but for others, it’s a necessary force of habit that eases the daily pain of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A painful condition that causes person’s immune system to attack the body’s tissues, rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the joints. When left untreated, the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis can lead to damage in other parts of the body, as well. In short, it can be seriously debilitating.

Worse yet, the American College of Rheumatology explains the exact cause of RA is unknown. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent the disorder, there are some things you can do to lessen your chances of getting RA (Genetics play a large role in RA — yet another disease you can blame your parents for). In addition to keeping inflammation at bay and discussing treatment options with your doctor, take a look at these ways you can reduce your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

1. Quit smoking

person smoking cigarette

Smoking can cause more than just cancer | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In case you’ve missed the important PSA regarding smoking cigarettes and tobacco use over the past several decades, smoking causes a whole host of health problems. Just don’t do it, OK? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “smoking is the strongest and most consistent modifiable risk factor for RA.” This means you can easily lower your risk by dropping the cigs.

Furthermore, the CDC also says people who have been exposed to maternal smoking as children are twice likely to develop RA as adults. The power is in your hands, literally. So put down the cigarette and commit to a healthier lifestyle.

2. Breastfeed (maybe…)

douple with a baby in their bedroom

Breastfeeding could help reduce your risk of RA | iStock.com

Breastfeeding comes with its perks. And now, you can add reducing your risk of RA to the list of benefits (as if saving on formula weren’t reason enough). According to the CDC, evidence suggests women who breastfeed are less likely to have RA. It’s important to note, though, this may just be coincidence. There’s no way researchers can actually link the two. But if you’re planning on having children anyway, it may be worth considering breastfeeding.

3. Oral contraceptives (another maybe)

three types of birth control

Different birth control options | iStock.com

Although oral contraceptives were at one point considered helpful in decreasing a woman’s risk of RA, this one is currently up for debate. The estrogen concentration in birth control pills today is far less than what it was when they were first introduced in the 60s, which may account for a more recent lack of association with a decreased risk of RA. Still, some recent evidence has shown oral contraceptives can help. Additionally, some research has determined that, while oral contraceptives may not protect against RA, they may help prevent the progression of RA. We may not know why these medications seem to help, but you may want to consider starting a conversation with your doctor.

4. Exercise

man stretching in field

Low-impact exercises are best for bad joints | iStock.com

Because symptoms of arthritis revolve so heavily around joint swelling, pain, and stiffness, leading an active lifestyle seems like an obvious precaution. “If you have healthy joints right now,” the Arthritis Foundation says, “do all you can now to maintain mobility and function and avoid the pain and disability associated with arthritis.” And if you don’t have healthy joints right now, try low-impact exercises that are sure to keep you fit without putting extra stress on your body.