Heavy and Smoking: An RA Double-Whammy

Rheumatoid arthritis risk greater in those who smoke or are overweight

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Both smoking and being overweight can take a huge toll on your body. Combine the two together and you might be in store for serious health problems, particularly arthritis.

People who smoke or who are overweight may have a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, according to recent research.

These researchers found both of these issues created negative health outcomes for RA patients.

"Quit smoking to prevent health problems."

It is known that the presence of certain blood markers and environmental factors can put people at risk for rheumatoid arthritis. It is not clear if smoking and being overweight play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis in people with these blood markers, according to Danielle M. Gerlag, MD, of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and colleagues.

Dr. Gerlag and colleagues set out to see if smoking and being overweight affected the risk of rheumatoid arthritis in people who were already at risk for the condition.

The researchers found that smoking was associated with the development of rheumatoid arthritis, with a hazard ratio of 9.6.

A hazard ratio explains how much an event happens in one group versus another. A hazard ratio of more than 1.0 means the event happens more in the first group than in the second.

In this case, the hazard ratio was dramatically more than 1.0, meaning that smokers had a much higher risk of developing arthritis than those who did not smoke.

Being overweight was also associated with rheumatoid arthritis, with a hazard ratio of 5.6. Again, this high hazard ratio means that overweight people had a much higher risk of arthritis than those of normal weight.

The participants in this study were already at risk for rheumatoid arthritis. Specifically, the arthritis-specific autoantibodies in their blood that put them at risk for the condition. Among these participants, the overall risk of rheumatoid arthritis was 28 percent. For people who smoked and were overweight, that risk increased to 60 percent.

Smoking and overweight are two modifiable lifestyle factors. That is, they are lifestyle factors that can be changed.

According to the authors, the study's findings show that modifiable lifestyle factors like smoking and being overweight may play an important role in the development of arthritis in patients already at risk.

More research is needed. However, if these results are confirmed in other studies, researchers may pinpoint another population at high risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, the authors said.

Knowing who is at risk can help doctors take steps to help prevent the condition.

With only 55 participants, the study was small. Participants were classified as having never smoked or ever smoked. Overweight was defined as a body mass index (BMI) - a measure of body fat using height and weight - of 25 or more.

The research was funded by the Dutch Arthritis Foundation and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development.

The study was published October 27 in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 30, 2012
Last Updated:
November 6, 2012