Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA as some people call it, is a disorder where a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks their joints, causing painful swelling around places like a person’s hands, feet, wrists, knees, or ankles. The attack also causes the joints to harden, which eventually leads to the joints breaking down. No one really knows what causes RA- it could be genetic, a result of hormones, or a side-effect of a viral or bacterial infection. However, like many other diseases, smoking just has to invite itself to this party. Scientists suspect that smoking may double a woman’s risk of developing it, but her chances decrease the longer she stays smoke-free.
Over 70,000 women were studied over a 20 year period where researchers found that girls exposed to secondhand smoke early in life may have a greater chance of developing RA later in life. Women who reported being exposed to secondhand smoke for an hour or more every day were 43% more likely to develop RA, regardless of whether they were current smokers or not. Women who were current smokers and exposed to secondhand smoke had a 73% increased risk of developing RA.
The study did not examine the effects of secondhand smoke and rheumatoid arthritis in men. However, RA isn’t the only autoimmune disease linked to smoking- lupus, multiple sclerosis, Grave’s hyperthyroidism, and Crohn’s Disease are all autoimmune diseases that are linked to smoking.