Thursday, November 11, 2010

Does RA Run In The Family?

Scientifically speaking, genetics doesn't seem to be the sole cause of RA, though it may be a contributing factor. However, as an RA patient, I can tell you that the single most often asked question when people find out I have RA is "does anyone else in your family have it?"

Until recently, my answer had been limited to my mom's side of the family. My cousin KF (my first cousin - my mom's sister's daughter), who is a few years older than me, got diagnosed with RA a year or two before I did. She has been an amazing source of support for me since my diagnosis. She also told me that our Nana (our shared grandmother on my mom's side) probably also had RA. So that's two on my mom's side of the family. 

As for my dad's side of the family, I'm pretty sure I get my other autoimmune disease from them. I also have Hashimoto's thyroiditis, where the immune system gradually attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. (Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, it was the first disease ever to be recognized as an autoimmune disease. I feel I should get some sort of prize for having it!) I'm not certain whether my family members on my dad's side also have Hashimoto's or just more generalized hypothyroidism, but I know that my dad, my aunt, and my grandmother on that said all have/had thyroid issues.

However, I also recently found out that there is RA on my dad's side of the family as well. My cousin JD (my first cousin once removed - my dad's first cousin) contacted me because she was writing a paper about RA for one of her classes. She told me that her grandmother also had RA. Her grandmother was my great-great-aunt (JD's mom and my dad's mom were sisters). So, while it isn't a particularly close blood relation, it was still interesting to learn that RA had been identified on both sides of my family.

Basically, the family ties to RA are inconclusive. You can get RA even if no one in your family has or ever had RA. On the flip side of that, you can have a bunch of family members who have RA and not get RA (like plenty of my other family members). So, just because I have a history of RA on both sides doesn't mean it's something I would necessarily pass along to my kids. But, even though I'm not planning on having kids this instant (APL is at work - ha!) I have to admit, it does worry me. I would  really hate to be the "reason" for anyone having to go through this type of pain, especially my own baby.

UPDATE: Ok. Apparently trying to figure out family relationships hurts my head just like trying to figure out daylight savings time. (Someone should draw me a diagram!) My cousin JD just pointed out to me that I got the relationship wrong in this post. JD's mom and my dad's mom were sisters - and it was their mom who had RA - and that makes her my great grandmother (my dad's and JD's grandma). So my great grandmother on my dad's side also had RA, which is a closer connection than I originally thought.


~kelly marie~ said...

I so understand how you feel. I am always terrified to pass something on. From what my doctor's say, it should be fine, but that worry is always in the back of my mind. That and my fear of being a terrible mother. Heh.

Sending hugs from a girl who understands exactly how you feel.

~Mariah~ said...

KELLY: I know it's irrational but it's a worry that always seems to pop up when I already feel the worst, you know? Hope things are going well for you!