A new study published today in Arthritis Care & Research reports a link between work-related factors and a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
The findings further suggest that certain airborne agents are responsible for contributing to the development of the autoimmune disease.
Researchers established that men who are electrical workers or work with electronics, as well as bricklayers and concrete workers, have higher risk for RA than those who work in other positions.
Workers in electrical and electronics manufacturing had a twofold increased risk. For bricklayers and concrete workers was an even greater threefold increased risk.
Researchers also reported those who work with metal and wood may have a higher risk.
Women working as assistant nurses and attendants also had higher than average risk for RA.
How the study was conducted
The study looked at 3,500 individuals with RA, and 5,580 members of a control group from the Swedish population-based Epidemiological Investigation of Rheumatoid Arthritis (EIRA) study.
The EIRA study contained a wealth of data obtained between 1996 and 2014, that included blood samples and the results of questionnaires that asked about such factors as work history and lifestyle.
Even when researchers controlled for tobacco use, BMI, education level, and alcohol consumption, they determined that certain occupations were still responsible for an increased risk of RA.
For men, those high risk jobs were likely to put workers in contact with airborne substances that may contribute to developing the condition.
Those substances include mineral oil, asbestos, textile dust, pesticides, solvents, and traffic pollutants. And most predominantly, silica, which has been previously confirmed to contribute to developing RA.
However, researchers were reluctant to say which element(s) may increase risk, and instead suggested that more research in this area is required.
“We know already that silica dust is one work-related exposure associated with an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis,” Anna Ilar, a lead study author and a PhD student of environmental medicine at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, told Healthline.
“The findings have given us some ideas on which exposures that may be associated with rheumatoid arthritis, and we will now proceed by investigating the association between occupational airborne exposures and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis in men and women,” she added.
The authors were more speculative in their analysis of why women working as assistant nurses and attendants would have a higher risk for RA.
They suggest that these jobs are physically demanding, which may have an association with developing RA.
Airborne substances and rheumatoid arthritis
RA is one of the most common forms of arthritis, but unlike osteoarthritis (OA), a degenerative joint condition, it is actually an autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune reactions may be provoked by harmful airborne exposures.
Despite the results presented in the study published today, the authors say there is still much to be done in order to understand the specifics of how certain work factors affect RA risk.
“It is important to point out that you will not necessarily develop rheumatoid arthritis just because you have had a certain occupation or have been exposed to potentially harmful exposures at work,” said Ilar.
“But, airborne exposures may lead to a greater risk of rheumatoid arthritis,” she added. “That is why it is important that findings on preventable risk factors are spread to employees, employers, and decision-makers in order to prevent disease by reducing or eliminating known risk factors.”