Rheumatoid Arthritis and Smoking

There are many health awareness days in February that we should mention, like Rheumatoid Arthritis.  While the exact cause of this autoimmune disease is still a mystery, smoking is a risk factor, but doctors don’t even know the exact role smoking may play.  Many sufferers are no longer calling it Rheumatoid Arthritis, but rather Rheumatoid Disease since it encompasses so many different diseases, with arthritis being just one of them.

RA or RD can strike anyone, but affects women more than men.  Your immune system attacks the lining  around your joints causing it to thicken, causing pain and swelling in your joint areas.  RA is an equal opportunity pain in the joint, usually affecting the same joints on both sides of the body at the same time.

Joints typically become warm and swollen and you may experience tenderness and pain.  It could cause stiffness first thing in the morning that lasts for a short amount of time, or pain could last several weeks.  And it isn’t just pain, swelling, and tenderness in the joints; many sufferers complain of fatigue and dryness of the mouth and eyes, loss of appetite and perhaps skin nodules.  Leaving this disease untreated can lead to joint deformities as well as bone loss.  But RA doesn’t stop there as it affects the rest of your body

While the disease is thickening the lining in your joints, inflammation is causing problems in other areas of the body such as the lungs, heart and blood vessels, the same areas also affected by smoking.

Inflammation from RA can produce scarring in the lungs causing shortness of breath and a dry cough.  Rheumatoid nodules can form in the lungs as well as on the hands.  Tissue around the lungs, called the pleural, can become inflamed and a buildup of fluid may result.  And chronic inflammation caused by the RA can thicken the walls of the small airways in the lungs causing shortness of breath, a chronic dry cough, fatigue and weakness.

Cardiovascular disease is also high on the list of RA sufferers as the disease doubles the risk of heart problems, “including heart attack, stroke and atherosclerosis.   Inflammation causes damage to the blood vessel lining allowing plaque to build up on the walls.  This raises blood pressure, narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to other organs.  Supposedly RA sufferers develop atherosclerosis at a faster rate.  Veins and arteries throughout your body are affected by this inflammation.  If you smoke, you are adding unnecessary risk to your health as smoking creates the same cardiovascular problems as RA.

While you may think it would be easy to diagnose RA, that’s not often the case, especially in its early stages.  Often times doctors will use blood and imaging tests to detect the disease, but even those may not be reliable.  The one thing you should understand with RA is that smoking will make it worse.  Even social smoking increases your inflammation factors in your body.  And continuing to smoke while treating your disease makes the therapies less effective.  There is no cure for RA, but with treatment, symptoms can become manageable.

Click the following links for more information on this disease:
What you should know about RA and Smoking
Smoking and rheumatoid arthritis:  What’s the risk?
5 Reasons Smoking Makes Arthritis Worse

Pictures of joint damage were obtained at the Arthritis Support Board site.


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