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Smoking increases disease's severity.

Cigarette smoking significantly worsens the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, according to researchers at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, who studied the severity of the disease in more than 300 patients. Kenneth Saag, assistant professor of internal medicine, indicates that smoking is a significant, modifiable risk factor for the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that affects more than 2,000,000 Americans. "Our study is the first that I know of to suggest smoking affects the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, so more research in this area is needed. But it appears likely that not smoking would benefit those people with rheumatoid arthritis."

Rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic inflammation and degeneration of the joints, typically in the fingers, hands, feet, ankles, knees, and shoulders. The condition usually is diagnosed by the presence of swollen joints, by X-rays that reveal erosion around the affected joints, and by the presence of antibodies in the blood known as rheumatoid factor.

Patients who first had visited the university's rheumatology or orthopedics clinics between 1985 and 1992 were asked about their rheumatoid arthritis, medication use and other health factors, lifestyles, and smoking habits. They also received blood tests, clinical evaluations, and X-rays of their hands to measure the amount of bone erosion in those areas.

After adjusting for known risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis, such as age and sex (women are more likely to have the disease), it was found that the patients who had smoked in the past or were current smokers were more likely to have high levels of rheumatoid factor and were at an increased risk for bone erosion. Moreover, those who had smoked for more than 25 years had three times the rheumatoid factor and bone erosion risks of non-smokers.

Researchers are not sure how smoking specifically worsens the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, Saag admits. However, "Smoking can cause abnormalities in the immune system of rheumatoid arthritis patients both in the lung as well as other parts of the body. Smoking increases a person's white blood cell count, and heavy smoking can cause abnormalities in immune system cells that may increase the risk of infection."
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Title Annotation:Univ of Iowa study shows cigarette smoking worsens symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Feb 1, 1998
Words:356
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