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Rheumatoid Arthritis Is on the Rise

Researchers Say Increased Use of Some Birth Control Pills Could Be a Factor

Second Opinion

The findings are not cause for alarm for women, says Daniel Arkfeld, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, who reviewed the findings for WebMD.

But the finding of a slight rise in RA among women will undoubtedly be news to some doctors, he says. "It's a mild trend [the increase] but it's going to be surprising to rheumatologists."

The good news, he says, is that "we're getting very good at treating it." New disease-modifying drugs have been approved recently, with the array of choices much broader than before.

As for the environmental factors behind the rise, he says some sound more plausible than others. Vitamin D deficiency, for instance, appears vary common, and all its effects are not yet known. ''We did a study and found that 50% of our patients had vitamin D deficiency, '' Arkfeld says, "and that's in sunny Southern California."

''This is an important study, although it has its limitations," says Patience White, MD, vice president of public health for the Arthritis Foundation, who reviewed the study for WebMD.

The study is relatively small, she says, and relies on medical histories of residents of one county in Minnesota, not as ethnically diverse as some other parts of the country.

Of the increase itself, she says that "a 2% increase over each year is not a lot."

"The significance here is it was a falling rate [previously] and now it's an increasing rate [in women.]"

The take-home for consumers, she says, is to get medical help when RA is suspected.  Symptoms may include stiff joints, swelling and pain.

''As opposed to 10 years ago, we now have fantastic treatments that can decrease the disability and destruction of the disease," White says.

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