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What are the chances of my child having arthritis?

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You may be worried that your baby could develop arthritis in later life. Most forms of arthritis do run in families to some extent, and the chances vary depending on the type of arthritis you have.

But for most types the chances of passing it on to your children aren’t very high and shouldn’t usually affect your decision to have children.

There are also many other factors involved in the development of arthritis, not just the genes inherited from parents – these include, for example, chance itself, joint injury, certain jobs, smoking, being overweight and environmental triggers, such as certain infections.

You should discuss the risks associated with your particular type of arthritis with your doctor, but the risks associated with common forms of arthritis are detailed below.

Osteoarthritis

Most forms of osteoarthritis aren’t usually passed on from parent to child. Other factors – such as age, joint injury, being overweight and certain occupations involving heavy labour – play a more important part.

One common form of osteoarthritis that does run strongly in families is nodal osteoarthritis. This form of arthritis mainly affects women and causes firm knobbly swellings on the fingers and often swelling at the base of the thumb, just above the wrist.

Nodal osteoarthritis usually doesn’t start until women are in their 40s or 50s, around the time of the menopause, so you may not develop it while you’re of child-bearing age. The chance of nodal osteoarthritis being passed on from mother to daughter is about one in two (50%).

Rheumatoid arthritis

Although several members of the same family can be affected by rheumatoid arthritis, the tendency to pass it on from parent to child isn’t very strong.

Research is continuing in this area, but the risk of a child inheriting rheumatoid arthritis from a parent is between 1 in 100 to 1 in 30 (about 1–3%) so they’re far more likely not to get it than to get it.

Ankylosing spondylitis

The chance of a child inheriting ankylosing spondylitis is estimated at about one in six if the parent has the gene HLA-B27, and about 1 in 10 if not. However, the way that the condition runs in families isn’t straightforward so it’s best to discuss this with your rheumatologist.

When ankylosing spondylitis occurs in a family where other members have it, it tends to be less severe than when there’s no apparent family link.

Psoriatic arthritis

The risk of passing on psoriatic arthritis to your child is probably similar to the risk for rheumatoid arthritis at about 1 in 30, although the risk of the child developing psoriasis is higher.

Lupus (SLE)

If you have lupus the chances of your child developing it in later life are about 1 in 100. Because of the way the genes involved work, there’s actually a greater risk of other relatives developing the disease – for example, 1 in 33 (3%) for the sister of someone with lupus (the risk is lower for brothers).

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