The Drag Towards Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis risk up more than two fold in current and former cigarette smokers

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

(RxWiki News) Some women find it cool just to hold a cigarette. But smoking them could be tied to pain in those hands and in other joints later on.

A new study found that current and former female cigarette smokers were more than twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those who never smoked.

The increased risk of developing the condition, even in former smokers, is another reason for women to not start smoking, according to researchers.

"Stop smoking."

The study, led by Daniela Di Giuseppe, from the Division of Nutritional Epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet, aimed to see how smoking was linked to rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic condition in which certain joints of the body become inflamed.

More than 34,000 women who were part of the Swedish Mammography Cohort were included in the study between January 2003 and December 2010. The women were between 54 and 89 years of age.

The women were surveyed on how long they smoked, how many cigarettes they smoked each day and whether or not they quit.

Researchers looked at the number of new rheumatoid arthritis cases during the study period. They took into account patients' menopausal status, alcohol use, body mass index, whether they had children and education level.

During the course of the study, 219 rheumatoid arthritis cases were identified. While more than a third had never smoked, 27 percent were former smokers and 37 percent were current smokers.

Smokers who had between one and seven cigarettes a day were 2.3 times more likely of having rheumatoid arthritis as those who never smoked, researchers found.

Further, smoking between one and 25 years also increased the risk for rheumatoid arthritis by 60 percent compared to those who never smoked.

Former smokers who had quit for at least 15 years were still about twice as likely to develop the condition as those who never smoked. But the risk for the condition decreased over time since quitting.

Specifically, women who stopped smoking at least 15 years before the follow-up time decreased their chances of developing the condition by 30 percent.

"In extension to this, we showed that the risk of RA was decreasing over time after smoking cessation, but compared to never smokers the risk was still statistically significantly higher," researchers wrote in their report. "The clearly increased risk of RA development even among former smokers is another reason to persuade women not to start smoking."

The authors noted they could not assess the risk of rheumatoid arthritis in women younger than 54 since they did not collect data from the younger age groups.

The researchers also noted that the number of individuals who quit smoking was limited and that smoking habit information was not collected throughout the study.

The study was published online April 21 in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy. No conflicts of interest were reported.

The Swedish Research Council's Committee for Medicine, Committee for Research Infrastructure for maintenance of the Swedish Mammography Cohort and the Swedish COMBINE funded the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 20, 2013
Last Updated:
December 2, 2013