What are the chances of my child having arthritis?

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There may be several members of your extended family with some form of arthritis, but for most types the chances of passing it on to your children are small. As most forms are unlikely to be passed on from parent to child, this shouldn’t affect your decision to have children.

If you’re worried you may want to try genetic counselling, in which a trained counsellor will help you to assess the risks of passing on a condition to your child and give you the opportunity to discuss any worries you may have.

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 or being overweight) play a more important part.

One common form of osteoarthritis that does run strongly in families is nodal osteoarthritis, which mainly affects women and causes firm knobbly swellings on the fingers and 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 1 in 2 (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. The risk of a child inheriting rheumatoid arthritis from a parent is between 1 in 100 to 1 in 30 (about 1–3%), but research into this continues.

Ankylosing spondylitis

The chance of a child inheriting ankylosing spondylitis is estimated at about 1 in 6 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 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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