Smoking Doubles Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Women who smoke just a few cigarettes per day are twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a new study.

Also known as rheumatoid disease, RA is a chronic and debilitating autoimmune disease that becomes worse over time. It causes inflammation and pain in the joints and surrounding tissues and can also harm other organs in the body. The most common complaints from RA patients are stiff joints and generally feeling tired and sick.

While giving up cigarettes decreases the risk of the disease, the study showed that former smokers were still more likely to develop RA than those who had never smoked, up to 15 years after quitting.

Researchers gathered and analyzed patient data for 34,000 women from the Swedish Mammography Cohort between the ages of 54 and 89. Of that total, 219 of the women had RA.

Scientists discovered that even light smoking of 1 to 7 cigarettes per day made women twice as likely to develop RA.

They also found that the longer the patients smoked, the more likely they were to have the disease.

While people of any age can have RA, it is more common after the age of 40. The researchers of this study wrote that they were limited both by their sample's age range of 54 to 89 years old as well as the single gender in the patient data. Their results did not reveal anything about RA in younger women and men. They also cited limitations due to the small percentage of patients who quit smoking, which may have affected the estimation of the effectiveness of quitting smoking to reduce risk.

Of course, previous research has tied smoking to other diseases and conditions. The habit has been linked to psoriatic arthritis in women, which causes inflammation and pain in the low-back. Smokers are also more likely to develop sciatica and other chronic pain conditions. Additionally, we have reported about teen smokers increasing their likelihood of osteoporosis, how smoking harms the body's ability to heal from bone fractures, and that quitting smoking can improve back pain.


Giuseppe D, Orsini N, Alfredsson L, Askling J, Wolk F. Cigarette smoking and smoking cessation in relation to risk of rheumatoid arthritis in women. Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013; 15(R56). doi:10.1186/ar421.

Li W, Han J, Qureshi A. Smoking and risk of incident psoriatic arthritis in US women. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases 2012;71:804-808. doi 10.1136/annrheumdis-2011-200416.

Walsh, Nancy. Smoking Tied to Back Pain, Arthritis. Medpage Today. May 18,2012. Accessed May 2, 2013.