Several lifestyle factors and pre-existing conditions are linked to an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

The finding came from a new study by researchers at the Arthritis Research UK Epidemiology Center, which is part of the National Institute of Health Research, Manchester Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit, England, and was published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

The team discovered that smoking cigarettes and having diabetes can raise a person’s likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

About 0.8% of the population are is affected by rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The causes of this chronic disease are of great concern to medical experts.

The investigators, led by Professor Ian Bruce, NIHR Senior Investigator and Professor of Rheumatology at The University of Manchester and consultant at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, examined the link between lifestyle factors and the risk of developing RA.

More than 25,000 people between the ages of 40 and 79 were involved in the study, they were observed over a number of years so that the experts could determine whether lifestyle factors impacted the development of the disease.

A total of 184 volunteers who developed arthritis were then compared to the participants who did not.

The experts discovered that the following factors increased the risk of developing RA:

The results also showed that consuming a small amount of alcohol as well as being in a higher social class were associated with a lower probability of developing the disease.

A previous study in BMJ indicated that women who drink more than 3 alcoholic beverages per week, for a minimum period of 10 years, have a 50% lower risk of developing RA than females who drink no alcohol.

The scientists also looked at gender specific factors and discovered that women who gave birth to more than 2 kids and breastfed for a shorter amount of time also had a greater likelihood of developing RA.

A prior report also suggested that women who breastfeed for a long time are less likely to develop RA.

The results of this study could be used to create a simple screening tool that doctors can use to identify patients with an increased risk of developing RA.

Those high-risk individuals could then be given advice on how to lower their risk of developing the disease.

Professor Ian Bruce said:

“The factors we studied give us vital clues to the early events in the process that ends in someone developing RA. They are also simple to ask about and can be used as part of a prevention program. Our new wave of funding from the Medical Research Council and National Institute of Health Research has allowed us to move forward to the next stage in our attempt to prevent the development of this distressing condition.”

The study was funded by Arthritis Research UK and supported by the Manchester Biomedical Research Centre.

Written by Sarah Glynn