Elderly man with hand on his forehead wondering if arthritis is hereditary

Is Arthritis Hereditary? Genetics and Potential Causes

Medically reviewed on March 7, 2024 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

Arthritis, an umbrella term that refers to over 100 conditions that affect the joints, joint tissues, and connective tissues, affects one in five adults. [1] Characterized by inflammation, arthritis commonly causes stiffness and pain in areas like the hands, wrists, knees, and hips. [2]

Whether or not arthritis is hereditary depends on the type of arthritis you have. While some forms of the condition can be attributed to genetics, others are the result of such things as viral infections, immune dysfunction, or high levels of uric acid—a waste product that can crystallize and cause joint pain. [3]

To fully understand the root causes of arthritis, we’ll be exploring the different types of arthritis and the extent to which genetics may play a role in their development.

Types of Arthritis and Their Causes


The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage around the joints becomes damaged, causing pain when the joint flexes and bends. This type of damage can develop over time or happen suddenly following an acute joint injury. [4, 5]

That said, old age, obesity, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases are also risk factors for osteoarthritis, as well as genetics. One twin study found that genetic factors are estimated to contribute between 39% and 65% to the development of osteoarthritis in the hand and knee in women; play a role in about 60% of the cases of osteoarthritis in the hip; and influence about 70% of cases related to the spine. [4, 5]

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis develops due to immune dysfunction, rather than by way of a lifestyle choice. More specifically, rheumatoid arthritis is a type of autoimmune disease in which immune cells wrongly attack joint tissue, causing [6, 7]:

  • Widespread inflammation
  • Cartilage damage
  • Bone erosion
  • Potential fusion of the joints, impairing mobility

Early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in hands may include joint stiffness, swelling, and pain, particularly in the morning or after periods of inactivity. The joint stiffness usually improves with movement. Women are two and a half times more likely to develop this condition compared to men. Further, environmental factors, like exposure to toxic pollutants, and genetics may be potential risk factors. The development of rheumatoid arthritis cannot be pinned on a single gene, but there are over 150 genetic marker types in the body that have the potential to trigger this type of dysfunction, such as STAT4, TRAF1/C5, PTPN22, and HLA. [6, 7]


When you consume certain types of foods and drinks, your body breaks these down into a waste product called uric acid. In healthy individuals, the body filters uric acid out of the blood and expels it through urine. However, if there is too much uric acid buildup in the body, it can crystallize in the joints, which can cause [8, 9]:

  • Severe pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Extreme tenderness

Gout arthritis and joint pain usually attack one joint to start with. Most commonly this is the big toe. People whose biological parents or grandparents have gout may have a higher chance of developing it as well. Specifically, genes that play a role in kidney function, such as SLC2A9, ABCG2, and SLC22A12, may modulate the risk of gout. Health conditions like diabetes, obesity, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, alcoholism, and blood cancer may also play a role as well as regular consumption of immunosuppressants, water pills, and meat. [8, 9]

Ankylosing Spondylitis

The inflammation of sacroiliac joints, located in the pelvis, is the leading cause of ankylosing spondylitis, which can cause lower back pain as well as [10]:

  • Hip pain
  • Neck pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Immobility in the hips and lower back
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rashes
  • Vision problems

Like rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis is an autoimmune disease, likely due to genetic mutations of a potential 60 genes—most commonly, HLA-B27. In fact, 9 out of 10 people with ankylosing spondylitis also have a HLA-B27 mutation. Ankylosing spondylitis is also more common in people with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and psoriasis. [10]

Psoriatic Arthritis

In some cases, psoriasis—a skin disease and autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and rashes—can develop into a type of arthritis called psoriatic arthritis, characterized by skin rashes and inflammation of the joints. [11]

Psoriatic arthritis does not discriminate: It can affect people of all ages, but it may more commonly develop in people who experience [11]:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Anemia
  • Muscle weakness

Genetics may also play a role; although the exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood. But, studies have found that 40% of people with this condition also have a family member who has it, making researchers believe that it may be hereditary, passing from parent to child.

Juvenile Arthritis

Juvenile arthritis is another type of autoimmune disease that's found in children 16 and younger. The immune system targets the tissues and liquid inside joints, causing several potential symptoms, including [12]:

  • Painful joints
  • Limping
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Eye problems

If the condition spreads, the immune cells may begin to target the cartilage and bones, impairing the child’s growth and development. The cause of juvenile idiopathic arthritis is unknown, but researchers hypothesize that genetics, infection, or environmental factors may play a role. [12]

How to Manage Arthritis

To manage arthritis, maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise to improve joint flexibility and strength. This may include:

  • Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Managing your weight to reduce stress on joints
  • Using joint protection techniques or attending physical therapy
  • Asking your healthcare provider about medications that can help to ease symptoms

It’s also helpful to discuss osteoarthritis vs. arthritis with your healthcare provider, to figure out how to best manage your symptoms. While arthritis is a broad term encompassing various joint disorders, osteoarthritis specifically refers to the degeneration of joint cartilage over time. Understanding these differences can guide more targeted approaches to symptom management and treatment.

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So, is arthritis hereditary? For certain types, it may be. However, inflammation and joint pain may also develop as a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices that lead to obesity or environmental factors.

That said, if you’re experiencing discomfort or swelling in your joints that impair your ability to move throughout the day, Everlywell is here to help. Our virtual care visits provide you with healthcare and advice from the comfort of your home. We also provide Omega-3 Fish Oil supplements to help reduce inflammation you may be experiencing.

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  1. Arthritis types. CDC. Published July 14, 2023. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  2. National Statistics - Arthritis. CDC. Published October 4, 2023. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  3. Arthritis. Cleveland Clinic. Published November 13, 2023. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  4. Osteoarthritis. Cleveland Clinic. Published October 2, 2023. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  5. Spector T, MacGregor A. Risk factors for osteoarthritis: genetics. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. Published 2004. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  6. Rheumatoid Arthritis. Cleveland Clinic. Published February 18, 2022. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  7. Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Genetic or Hereditary and What Role Does Environment Play? Pfizer. Published September 19, 2023. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2023.
  8. Gout. Cleveland Clinic. Published February 19, 2023. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2023.
  9. Reginato A, et al. The genetics of hyperuricaemia and gout. Nat Rev Rheumatol. Published September 4, 2012. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2023.
  10. Ankylosing Spondylitis. Cleveland Clinic. Published December 19, 2023. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2023.
  11. Psoriatic Arthritis. Cleveland Clinic. Published September 19, 2023. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2023.
  12. Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Cleveland Clinic. Published February 2, 2019. Medical Citation URL. Accessed January 14, 2023.

Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP is a board-certified Family Physician. Since completing her residency training in 2010, she’s been practicing full-scope family medicine in a rural setting. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s practice includes caring for patients of all ages for preventative care as well as chronic disease management. She also provides prenatal care and delivers babies. Dr. Foglesong Stabile completed a teaching fellowship in 2020 and teaches the family medicine clerkship for one of her local medical schools. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s favorite thing about family medicine is the variety of patients she sees in her clinical practice.
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