Does smoking increase my risk of rheumatoid arthritis?

Answer From April Chang-Miller, M.D.

Yes, smoking is linked to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, particularly for people who have smoked 20 years or longer.

Smokers also have an increased risk of more-severe rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, they may be less likely to experience remission.

Smoking decreases the effectiveness of some drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and can be a barrier to engaging in activities that may relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, such as exercise.

The exact reason why smoking is linked to rheumatoid arthritis isn't well-understood, but researchers suspect smoking somehow ignites faulty immune system functioning in people genetically predisposed to getting rheumatoid arthritis.

Both environmental and genetic factors play a role in who gets rheumatoid arthritis, and smoking is considered one of the most important environmental risk factors. But it's a risk factor that's completely preventable.

Many people with rheumatoid arthritis aren't aware that smoking makes their condition worse, so they don't see it as a reason to quit. Plus, there are factors unique to rheumatoid arthritis that may make it more challenging to quit smoking. These factors include the idea that smoking is a distraction that helps people cope with the pain of rheumatoid arthritis and feelings of isolation and lack of support.

But quitting smoking is important for your overall health too. Along with increasing rheumatoid arthritis risks, smoking also ups your odds of:

  • Lung and other cancers
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Osteoporosis

If you have rheumatoid arthritis and smoke, quitting could have numerous benefits. Talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit.

Dec. 05, 2017 See more Expert Answers

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