Smoking has long been linked to an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, and quitting can reduce this risk. But the new study offers fresh evidence that years of cessation can pay off more than just a brief period without cigarettes.
“These results provide evidence for those at increased rheumatoid arthritis risk to quit smoking since this may delay or even prevent the onset of rheumatoid arthritis,” said senior study author Jeffrey Sparks of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Also, Sparks said by email, while quitting smoking is the best way to reduce rheumatoid arthritis risk, cutting back on smoking “should also help lessen the risk.”
Rheumatoid arthritis is an immune disorder that causes debilitating swelling and pain in the joints. It’s less common than osteoarthritis, which happens when cartilage on the ends of bones wears down over time.
Sparks and colleagues examined up to 38 years of data on more than 230,000 women, including 1,528 who developed rheumatoid arthritis.
Compared to women who never smoked, current smokers were 47 per cent more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, the researchers report in Arthritis Care and Research. Current smokers were also 67 per cent more likely to develop “seropositive” rheumatoid arthritis —when patients have antibodies in their blood that help identify the disease.