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New risk for rheumatoid arthritis: What women should know

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Mayo Clinic researchers find new risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis in women.

Researchers find a surge in rheumatoid arthritis among women, driven perhaps by obesity. According to Mayo Clinic researchers, there appears to be a link between the two. Being obese could be fueling the painful autoimmune disorder among women that attacks and inflames the joints.

The study, published in the American College of Rheumatology journal Arthritis Care & Research, found obesity significantly boosts a woman’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. The finding is important for women who want to maintain independence and quality of life through early lifestyle interventions.

Medical records show obesity, rheumatoid arthritis link

Researchers found the link between obesity and RA when they looked at medical records from 1980-2007 from the Rochester Epidemiology Project. They looked at equal number of adults – one group with rheumatoid arthritis and a control group who were matched by age, gender and calendar year. They also noted smoking status, height and weight. Sixty eight percent were women and approximately 30% in each group were obese.

There was a 9.2% increase found in RA per 100,000 women from 1985 to 2007; 52% of which was the result of obesity.

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Study co-author Eric Matteson, M.D., chair of the Division of Rheumatology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester said in a news release, "We know that fat tissues and cells produce substances that are active in inflammation and immunity. We know too that obesity is related to many other health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, and now perhaps to autoimmunity. It adds another reason to reduce and prevent obesity in the general population."

The researchers aren’t sure why obesity might trigger rheumatoid arthritis. The cause is unknown and once RA develops there is no cure.

In addition to painful joints, the condition can damage other organs. Smoking, periodontal disease and environmental exposure to silica mineral all are reported to raise the risk of disease. The new study suggests obesity might also raise a woman’s risk for rheumatoid arthritis. Women can cut their chances of developing the painful condition by cutting calories and remaining active to maintain a normal BMI.

Arthritis Care & Research
April 25, 2012

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