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Researchers said people who don’t smoke can delay or even eliminate the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. Getty Images

Smoking cigarettes isn’t good for anyone — that much is clear. But smoking may be especially bad for people living with rheumatoid arthritis.



This is especially true for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who have smoked for more than 20 years.

A recent study published in Arthritis Care & Research reaffirms that smoking is as strong a risk factor as ever for seropositive RA. It also concludes that not smoking for a long period of time can delay — or even prevent — seropositive RA.

The study looked at 230,732 women, 1,528 of whom had RA. Of these, 63 percent were seropositive.

Compared to people who have never smoked, current smokers had an increased risk for most types of rheumatoid arthritis. That included seropositive RA but not seronegative RA.

The study also found that compared to the women who had quit smoking within the previous 5 years, those who had quit smoking at least 3 decades ago were 37 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.

When compared to women who never smoked, current smokers were 47 percent more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, and 67 percent more likely to develop the seropositive form of rheumatoid arthritis.

The authors concluded that quitting smoking can delay RA onset in patients who tested seropositive. They added it could also prevent RA from developing at all.

This is one of the first studies that has pointed out the provable preventative impact that a behavior change, such as smoking cessation, could make in the progression or development of RA.

There was mixed reaction from people with rheumatoid arthritis who were interviewed by Healthline on this topic.

“I smoked for eight years, gave up four years ago due to worsening health issues,” Trisha Corbett, an RA patient, told Healthline. “I have no doubt that it contributes to taking your health as a whole more seriously. Even though I was diagnosed after I gave up, I felt much better afterward.”

“I am a current, trying to be former, smoker… again,” added Liz Hudgson, another person with rheumatoid arthritis. “I have had twice given up smoking completely. First time for nine months, second time for six months. I can honestly say that my RA symptoms remained the same whether smoking or not.”

Other patients on an online RA support forum echoed these sentiments on both sides. Some said they believe secondhand smoke exacerbated symptoms or caused their RA onset.

But many medical doctors agree with the findings of the study.

One is Dr. Bharat Kumar, MME, FACP, RhMSUS, program director of the Associate Rheumatology Fellowship in the Division of Immunology at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

“As a rheumatologist, I cannot emphasize enough how important smoking cessation is for treating and preventing rheumatoid arthritis,” Kumar told Healthline. “After all, tobacco use is the strongest known environmental risk factor for developing rheumatoid arthritis, and RA patients who smoke tend to have worse disease.”

“In addition, tobacco increases the risks for developing other conditions that RA patients are already at high risk for, including heart disease, lung disease, and osteoporosis,” Kumar noted. “These can lead to heart attacks, shortness of breath, and fractures. Lastly, tobacco interacts with medications used to treat RA, leading to them being less effective. In short, for a longer, better, and healthier life with RA, smoking cessation is an absolute must.”

If you or a loved one is trying to quit smoking, the nonprofit organization Quit.com has resources available for free. Your rheumatologist or primary care doctor may also be able to help.