When someone says they have arthritis, it could be any one of more than 200 different diseases, but it is an informal way of saying they have joint pain or joint disease. This disease can strike both young and old, men and women, and people of all races. Here in the U.S. more than 52 million adults and about 300,000 children have arthritis, which is the leading cause of disability. At least two forms of arthritis, degenerative and rheumatoid arthritis, may become more severe when people smoke. On World Arthritis Day, here are some things you need to know about these diseases.
Many people have a form of arthritis called degenerative arthritis or osteoarthritis. The cartilage on the ends of the bones wears away causing bone to rub on bone causing swelling and pain. There are many risk factors, including family history and previous injuries, but smoking may make this form of arthritis worse. In one study among men, researchers discovered that “men with knee osteoarthritis who smoke sustain greater cartilage loss and have more severe knee joint pain than men who do not smoke.” It also appears that smokers have greater musculoskeletal pain as well as greater back pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are two examples of inflammatory arthritis in which the immune system can attack the joints and cause uncontrolled inflammation. This inflammation not only affects the joints causing pain, it can also damage to other organs including the heart and eyes. Whether it is in infection, genes, or a virus, doctors aren’t sure why the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue, but there are some things they have discovered: RA affects more women then men, it can run in families, and smoking can mean patients have a worse outcome.
There are drugs that can control your RA and decrease your joint damage, but smoking also decreases the effectiveness of these drugs. While smokers already have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, that risk increases even more with RA as the inflammation can affect your heart.
The bottom line, if you have some form of arthritis and smoke, do your body a favor and quit.