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FRIDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- Smokers and former smokers are at increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis, a new study says.
Researchers analyzed data collected from 34,000 women, aged 54 to 89, in Sweden, 219 of whom had rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation in the joints, resulting in swelling, stiffness, pain and reduced joint function. It can also affect other parts of the body.
The number of cigarettes smoked per day and the number of years a woman smoked both affected the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, according to the study, which was published April 22 in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy.
Women who had smoked for up to 25 years were much more likely to develop the disease than those who never smoked. Even light smoking -- defined as one to seven cigarettes a day -- more than doubled the risk, said the researchers at the Karolinska Institute and Karolinska University Hospital, in Stockholm.
Quitting smoking did lower the risk, which continued to decrease over time. For those who gave up smoking 15 years ago, the risk had fallen by a third. Their risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA), however, was still much higher compared to women who had never smoked.
Although the study tied smoking to an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis in women, it didn't establish a cause-and effect relationship.
"Stopping smoking is important for many health reasons, including the increased risk of RA for smokers," study leader Daniela Di Giuseppe said in a journal news release. "But the clearly increased risk of developing RA, even many years after giving up, is another reason to stop smoking as soon as possible, and highlight the importance of persuading women not to start at all."
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Arthritis Research & Therapy, news release, April 21, 2013