A new study reveals that rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are closely related illnesses. And just one gene can increase the risk for both. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common adult health problem, affecting around one percent of the population. Doctors have long suspected that genes play a critical role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis, since siblings of affected patients have 5-10 times greater risk for the disease. A new study compared the DNA of several thousand people with rheumatoid arthritis to genetic material from healthy people. Results showed that a single gene called STAT4 increased the odds of rheumatoid arthritis by 60 percent. In a separate analysis doctors found that stat4 also appeared to double the risk for lupus erythematosus. Both lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are disorders of the immune system, but this new research shows they are very closely connected. STAT4 is a gene that helps trigger inflammation in the immune system -- typically in response to injury or a viral invader -- but malfunction of the gene causes immune system abnormalities. Experts say STAT4 is one of many genes involved in both illnesses, and that the overall genetic pattern influences which disorder a person will develop.
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