Rheumatoid arthritis is a for of arthritis the occurs when the body’s immune system attacks healthy joint tissue, mistaking it for an intruder. Autoimmune diseases often have a genetic component, meaning vulnerability to these conditions is inheritable and runs in families. However, carriers frequently avoid displaying symptoms unless a trigger, often in the environment, activates the disease.
These triggers are not always known, although theories abound, and are likely to be different for different conditions. Recently scientists discovered that obese women are significantly more prone to RA. Women are already known to be two and a half times more likely to develop RA than men are, now researchers are developing a deeper understanding of what other factors there are.
Rheumatoid arthritis patients generally experience initial pain in the extremities, and then it moves to the knees, shoulders and hips. The condition can severely limit mobility and impact quality of life. It can also lead to complications such as heart problems, lung disease, osteoporosis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
The study looked at health records between 1985 and 2007, and found a significant increase in the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis, and by 2007 1.5 million adults had the condition. Researchers determined that more than half the increase was due to a rise in obesity. In fact, people with a history of obesity are more than twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than people at a more normal weight.
Smoking is another risk factor, though it had only a negligible affect on the increase. Both smoking and obesity are linked with inflammation, and that might be part of the reason for the connection with rheumatoid arthritis.
There has been some criticism of the study. Performed by the Mayo Clinic, the research focused on the area around the clinic’s home, Rochester, Minnesota. The patients studied showed very little racial diversity, so further study is needed to determine if that makes a significant difference in the results.
Living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a healthy weight have lots of medical benefits, and according to the study, can help prevent rheumatoid arthritis. If you’ve been obese in the past, and especially if you have a family history of autoimmune disease, talk to a doctor to determine what you can do to reduce your risks.