A New Risk for Smokers - Rheumatoid Arthritis

Smoking is well known to be associated with added risks for a number of diseases including emphysema, lung cancer, and coronary artery disease. Now it appears that heavy smokers are also at a markedly increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Research reported in the February 15, 2001 issue of the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases shows further that a family history of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a known risk factor for RA, is less common among heavy smokers.

The Study Design and Results

The study team in Liverpool, England analyzed the smoking habits of 239 patients with RA and 239 healthy people. They were also asked if a first or second degree relative had RA.

The results showed the patients with RA were significantly more likely to be current smokers than were healthy people. Those who had smoked 20 cigarettes a day for between 40 and 50 years were over 13 times as likely to have RA.

Over half the patients with RA had no family history of the disease. Significantly more of these patients were heavy and current smokers at the time of diagnosis.

Evidence also suggests there is an association between smoking and the production of rheumatoid factor, a blood marker for the disease.


Both environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Cigarette smoking appears to be one of the environmental factors in rheumatoid arthritis.

Reference: D Hutchison, L Shepstone, R Moots, JT Lear, MP Lynch. Heavy cigarette smoking is strongly associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), particularly in patients without a family history of RA. Annals of Rheumatic Diseases 2001; 60: 223-227.

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