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The Link Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Tobacco

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

The use of tobacco and development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are known to be linked. The additional stress of smoking on the body may add complications to the joint pain experienced by rheumatoid arthritis patients. Persistent pain from inflammation can cause extreme discomfort, so it is essential for someone with rheumatoid arthritis to take action to reduce these symptoms.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes Joint Pain, Swelling, and Damage

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks your own body, leading to pain and chronic inflammation of the joints. The condition most often affects hands and feet but can also affect other joints, including those in the knees, hips, wrists, and elbows. The cause of RA isn't known, but it appears to be triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1.3 million Americans — many of whom are older than 65 years old. The disease may occur at any age but usually starts between 40 and 60 years old. Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis.

Sm​​oking and Joint Damage

When you smoke, you might notice that your joints hurt more after a run or other physical activity. This is because smoking constricts the blood vessels around your joints, reducing the amount of oxygen they receive (which hurts!). This joint pain is heightened in someone already battling RA.

Smokers with rheumatoid arthritis may be at greater risk of developing severe joint damage, according to a study published in the March issue of Arthritis Care & Research. The study found that smokers were more than twice as likely to have severe joint damage than non-smokers.

Smoking Makes RA Symptoms Worse

The immune system is responsible for the body's response to foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and toxins. When someone has rheumatoid arthritis (RA), their immune system attacks healthy tissue in their joints. Smoking can increase this response and make RA symptoms worse. It can increase the risk of RA by up to 50 percent. The risk is exceptionally high in women who smoke more and have a family history of RA.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one out of every five adults in the U.S. smokes cigarettes, making it the leading cause of preventable death in America. Smoking is linked to many diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer — all potentially disabling conditions that can make life difficult for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). ​​Smoking may also make it harder for people with RA to control their disease by blocking the effects of certain medications.

Reducing RA Symptoms

The good news is that quitting smoking can help reduce joint pain, inflammation

and slow down disease progression. If you have RA, quitting smoking will improve your quality of life and increase your chances of living longer than if you keep smoking.

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