RA, Smoking, and Alcohol

The potential risks smoking and drinking pose to people with rheumatoid arthritis.

WebMD—June 23, 2011

You already know that smoking is bad for you and that it's unhealthy to drink too much alcohol.

But do you know how tobacco and alcohol relate to rheumatoid arthritis -- your odds of developing RA, or, if you already have RA, your odds of making it worse?

Here's what the research shows.

RA, Smoking, and Your Genes

Smoking may make people more likely to get RA. And, depending on their genes, it may make their RA worse. On top of that, smoking mixed with RA can lead to even greater problems, like heart disease.

“Very clear studies indicate that tobacco is highly associated [with] and probably causal in rheumatoid arthritis and is causal in the worst form of the disease,” says Susan Goodman, MD, an assistant attending rheumatologist and internist at Hospital for Special Surgery.

Your genes may also matter. A Swedish study, published in December 2010, shows that the odds of developing RA was related not just to how much a person smokes, but also to their genetic makeup. People with a certain gene variation, called HLA-DRB1, who smoke are much more likely to get rheumatoid arthritis than someone who doesn’t smoke -- and to have severe RA.

“It turns out that people who smoke who bear this genetic factor are much more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis and do develop more severe disease," Goodman says.

Smoking can also make dealing with the disease more difficult.

“In a lot of the studies on the course of rheumatoid arthritis, patients who smoke do less well, and they’re less likely to achieve remission,” Goodman says. “They’re more likely to have a worse outcome. Smoking gives them a worse prognosis.”

Smoking can increase painful rheumatoid nodules, which form in the joints, she says. It can also lead to heart disease, which -- even on its own -- is a big problem in people with RA. And smoking makes it worse.

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The bottom line: Quit. But Goodman says she doesn't always address that first.

When patients come into her office for treatment, Goodman first focuses on getting their pain under control. After that, she then turns to their bad habits - like smoking.

“Certainly, everyone should quit smoking,” Goodman says. “And we try to help the patient do that.”

Read the full story at webmd.com.

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