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Smoking Raises Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk

Study Suggests Smoking Is a Major Cause of RA
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The increased RA risk conferred by smoking was more pronounced among men than women, the study showed.

Quitting smoking did have some effect on reducing RA risk, the study showed.

Among the heaviest smokers, however, the risk of RA remained high even 20 years after they quit smoking.

The new findings “may provide a rationale for specific counseling against smoking for individuals with a family history of RA,” Källberg and colleagues conclude. “There are many reasons for the medical community to communicate the known facts on smoking and RA with the aim of reducing the incidence of smoking and preventing.”

More Research Needed on Smoking and RA

Ted R. Mikuls, MD, a rheumatologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, says the new study validates earlier research on how smoking affects RA risk including a study from his own group that showed cigarette smoking increases the risk of RA among African-Americans.

“Smoking is the environmental risk factor that has most consistently been linked to RA,” he says. “For now, it is the only modifiable risk factor that has been consistently linked to this condition, adding weight to public health measures aimed at reducing smoking prevalence.”

Precisely how smoking affects RA risk is not well understood, he tells WebMD in an email. “The short answer is that we’re not sure exactly what the mechanisms are that link cigarette smoking to an increased RA risk,” Mikuls says.

“Understanding this link better may provide us with much needed insight into how RA starts and may provide us avenues for treatment or even means of prevention,” he says. “Patients know that smoking contributes to other health risks, but often discussing the link with their arthritis provides added incentives to quit.”

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