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Quit Smoking to Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis

Study Shows Breaking the Smoking Habit Can Cut RA Pain
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 25, 2008 -- People with rheumatoid arthritis may be able to reduce the pain, stiffness, and other symptoms of their disease by quitting smoking, new research indicates.

Scientists presented evidence Saturday at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in San Francisco that quitting smoking can reduce discomfort of swollen and tender joints in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

"While these results are preliminary, it seems that quitting smoking, which would have many other health benefits, also may benefit patients with rheumatoid arthritis," says Mark Fisher, MD, MPH, of New York University Medical Center's Hospital for Joint Disease, in a news release. "RA patients who stop smoking may see an improvement in the number of joints that hurt them every day and in how they feel overall."

He said more research is needed to confirm what he described as early findings of a connection between smoking and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Smoking is known to increase the risk and severity of rheumatoid arthritis, and quitting the habit has been shown to have a positive impact on other diseases, such as emphysema and coronary artery disease.

The researchers focused on a change in the score of the Clinical Disease Activity Index, which gives information on the degree of disease activity, joint damage, and function. They also took into account measures such as the number of tender and swollen joints and laboratory tests.

Of 1,405 people who smoked when they enrolled in a registry of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, 21.1% said they stopped smoking, the researchers said. By the time of their last follow-up visit, disease activity was higher in active smokers than in those who had quit. The numbers of tender and swollen joints were lower in the group of participants who had quit smoking.

The results, the researchers say, suggest that stopping smoking can lessen disease activity in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

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