Complement is implicated in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA); elevated levels of complement activation products have been measured in plasma, synovial fluid, and synovial tissues of patients. Complement polymorphisms are associated with RA in genome-wide association studies. Coding-region polymorphisms may directly impact protein activity; indeed, we have shown that complement polymorphisms affecting a single amino acid change cause subtle changes in individual component function that in combination have dramatic effects on complement activity and disease risk. In this study, we explore the functional consequences of a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) (rs17611) encoding a V802I polymorphism in C5 and propose a mechanism for its link to RA pathology. Plasma levels of C5, C5a, and terminal complement complex were measured in healthy and RA donors and correlated to rs17611 polymorphic status. Impact of the SNP on C5 functionality was assessed. Plasma C5a levels were significantly increased and C5 levels significantly lower with higher copy number of the RA risk allele for rs17611, suggesting increased turnover of C5 V802. Functional assays using purified C5 variants revealed no significant differences in lytic activity, suggesting that increased C5 V802 turnover was not mediated by complement convertase enzymes. C5 is also cleaved in vivo by proteases; the C5 V802 variant was more sensitive to cleavage with elastase and the "C5a" generated was biologically active. We hypothesize that this SNP in C5 alters the rate at which elastase generates active C5a in rheumatoid joints, hence recruiting neutrophils to the site thus maintaining a state of inflammation in arthritic joints.