It's a well known fact that cigarette smoking increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease.  More evidence now exists which adds rheumatoid arthritis to the list of diseases linked to smoking.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which causes chronic inflammation of the joints, the tissue surrounding the joints, and possibly other organs in the body. Rheumatoid arthritis affects more than two million people in the United States and is three times more common in women than men.

About the Study

Research was presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting (October 29-November 2, 2000 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Based on an analysis of the records of more than 30,000 women (age 55-69) enrolled in the Iowa Women's Health Study since 1986 statistically significant correlations were found between:

  • the incidence of elderly onset rheumatoid arthritis and the number of cigarettes smoked per day

  • the incidence of elderly onset rheumatoid arthritis and how long the individual was a smoker

It was found that the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis was nearly double for current smokers compared to non-smokers. The risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis appeared lower for former smokers compared to current smokers but higher than for people who never smoked. Women who had stopped smoking at least 10 years prior to the start of the study did not have an increased risk.

Researchers are not certain why smoking increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis for women. An interaction between smoking and the woman's immune system and/or estrogen level has been suggested. It is thought that smoking may lower the level of estrogen. It has also been observed that smoking raises the level of rheumatoid factor in the body. Future studies will focus on determining the exact connection between smoking and rheumatoid arthritis.


Smoking May Increase Risk of Developing Rheumatoid Arthritis, ACR 10/29/2000

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