Killing Pests Can Hurt You Too

Pesticides linked to increased risk of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Over the years, pesticides have been linked to a variety of serious health problems. Now, researchers have found that being exposed to pesticides may lead to lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

A new study shows that women who are exposed to or use pesticides are more likely to develop lupus and rheumatoid arthritis - two very painful autoimmune diseases. Researchers found that women living on farms who personally handled pesticides were especially at risk of developing these diseases. In fact, they were almost three times more likely to become affected by lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, compared to women who never used pesticides.

dailyRx Insight: Handling pesticides can cause lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

An unsettling amount of pesticides - which are usually used to kill termites, fleas, and other bugs - enter into the environment each year. Chemicals in pesticides have been linked to many cancers, including breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancer. Newer research has found that these chemicals may also increase the risk of Parkinson's disease, in addition to affecting a child's developing brain.

In light of these health hazards, Dr. Christine G. Parks from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and her colleagues wanted to see if exposure to pesticides at home and at work increased the risk of developing lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. After looking at data from nearly 77,000 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 years, researchers found that women who handled pesticides for at least 20 years faced almost double the risk of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, compared to those who did not personally use pesticides. Women who personally handled pesticides and lived on farms faced an even greater risk.

Close to 200,000 people in the United States have lupus, with women being affected nine times more than men. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that attacks multiple organ systems and connective tissues in the body. It is incurable, but treatable, and most people with lupus will live a normal lifespan. Women of Afro-Caribbean descent are affected three times more often than other groups. The initial symptoms of lupus are fever, joint pains and fatigue. About 30% of lupus patients have dermatologic symptoms, with 30%-50% getting the characteristic butterfly shaped rash on the face. Another very serious complication is end stage renal disease (ESRD), and kidney transplants are common. There is no single genetic cause for lupus, but many different genes have been identified as contributors to developing lupus. The most important genes for lupus development are located in the chromosome 6 HLA region. Lupus can also be drug induced by quinidine, phenytoin (Dilantin), hydralazine (Apresoline), and procainamide (Pronestyl), but is fortunately reversible. Drugs used to treat lupus are frequently DMARDS (disease modifying antirheumatic drugs) such as Humira, Rituxan, Remicade, methotrexate, and Enbrel. Steroids and other immunosuppressants help reduce symptoms as well (Belimumab, Atacicept). Painkillers, such as Vicodin or Darvocet are common and often necessary. An ANA (antinuclear antibody) blood test can be used to diagnosis lupus.

There are approximately 1.3 million rheumatoid arthritis sufferers in the United States, about 75 percent of whom are women. Rheumatoid arthritis damages the joints, most commonly in the hands, feet, and cervical spine. Inflammation can also affects other organs and systems in the body such as the skin, lungs (fibrosis), kidneys (amyloid protein deposits), and cardiovascular system (increased risk for heart attack and stroke, as well as fibrosis and pericarditis). There are many prescription medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), chloroquine (Aralen), leflunomide (Arava), and methotrexate (Rheumatrex ). Non-pharmacological treatment includes psychical therapy, orthoses, and nutritional therapy but these do not stop progression of joint destruction. Analgesics (painkillers) and anti-inflammatory drugs, including steroids, are used to suppress the symptoms, while disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are required to inhibit or halt the underlying immune process and prevent long-term damage. Recently the newer group of biologics, such as abatacept (Orencia), adalimumab (Humira), etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade), and rituximab (Rituxan) have increased treatment options. A clinical diagnosis can be made on the basis of symptoms, physical exam, radiographs, x-rays and lab tests.

The study by Parks and colleagues is published in Arthritis Care & Research.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 23, 2011
Last Updated:
March 24, 2011