Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Lungs

Smoking Doubles Women's Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk

By Anita Manning
October 31, 2000

Women who smoke run a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis later in life than non-smokers do, a study finds.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham looked at the medical records of more than 30,000 women who have been enrolled in the Iowa Women's Health Study since 1986. They found that the chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis was double for those who smoked cigarettes compared with non-smokers and that heavy smokers were at greater risk than those who smoked little.

Lead researcher Kenneth Saag, who presented the findings Sunday to the American College of Rheumatology meeting in Philadelphia, says the UAB study is the first to show an association between cigarette smoking and the development of rheumatoid arthritis in older women.

All the women involved were 55 to 65 years old at the start of the study, and most developed rheumatoid arthritis after they turned 60.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic illness that affects an estimated 1% of adults in the USA, causing pain, stiffness and swelling of the joints. More than 75% of cases are in women.

Other studies have found an association between smoking and the disease in younger women, Saag says. ''We think our study is one of the largest and most definitive to concur with other work and to see a significant correlation between the length of time and amount of smoking.''

Women who smoked for more than 40 years had roughly a doubled risk, he says, while those who had quit smoking more than 10 years before the beginning of the study had no increased risk.


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