Another Reason for Arthritis Patients to Quit Smoking

By Pat Anson, Editor

Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who quit smoking can significantly reduce their risk of an early death, according to a British study published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research.

University of Manchester researchers studied a database of over 5,600 rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients that included hospital admissions and death certificates. They found that the risk of death was almost two times higher in RA patients who smoked compared to those who never smoked.

The good news for smokers is that if they quit, the risk of death fell for each year they didn’t smoke. Former smokers have a risk similar to that of RA patients who had never smoked.

"This research provides important evidence that the risk of early death starts to decline in patients who stop smoking, and continues year on year,” said Deborah Symmons, Professor of Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Epidemiology at The University of Manchester.

“We hope that this research can be used by public health professionals and rheumatologists to help more people quit smoking and reduce premature deaths, particularly for newly diagnosed patients with rheumatoid arthritis."

RA is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own defenses attack joint tissues, causing swelling, inflammation and bone erosion. Many health experts believe the inflammation triggered by RA in the joints may cause inflammation throughout the body, including the heart’s coronary arteries.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 50 percent of premature deaths in people with rheumatoid arthritis result from cardiovascular disease. The heightened risk of heart disease applies to all forms of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, gout, lupus and psoriatic arthritis.

"Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating and painful condition affecting over 400,000 people in the UK, it can begin at any age and is unpredictable - one day you can feel fine and the next day be confined to bed, unable to get up to dress, even go to the toilet unaided,” said Stephen Simpson, Director of Research and Programmes for Arthritis Research UK.

"As a charity, we are committed to preventing, transforming and curing arthritis and musculoskeletal diseases, and this research shows that cutting out smoking is one intervention which can help this condition from developing."

There is already plenty of evidence to show an association between smoking and increased risk of death in the general population, but the habit is especially risky for chronic pain sufferers. Studies have found that smoking increases your chances of having several types of chronic pain conditions, such as degenerative disc disease.

A study of over 6,000 Kentucky women found that those who smoked had a greater chance of having fibromyalgia, sciatica, chronic neck pain, chronic back pain and joint pain than non-smokers. Women in the study who smoked daily more than doubled their odds of having chronic pain.

A large study in Norway found that smokers and former smokers were more sensitive to pain than non-smokers. Smokers had the lowest tolerance to pain, while men and women who had never smoked had the highest pain tolerance.

A recent study in Sweden published in JAMA Neurology found that smoking after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis significantly accelerates progression of the disease.