There’s been a lot discovered about rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and its causes.
Studies have shown that smoking is a big risk factor in the development of RA, though the exact role that smoking plays in that development is unknown.
Researchers do think that smoking affects the way that your immune system functions, especially if you already have certain conditions that make it more likely that you’ll develop RA.
Also, if your RA diagnosis requires surgery, smoking may increase your risk for complications. It can affect anesthesia and drug metabolism, as well as your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure.
People who smoke are also at a higher risk for experiencing more severe RA symptoms and being less likely to recover from their symptoms.
Here are some of the links between RA and smoking:
- You are more likely to develop RA if you smoke. Studies show that environmental and hereditary factors are likely causes in the development of RA. Smoking is considered an environmental factor, meaning it puts you at a higher risk for RA.
- You are less likely to respond to RA treatments if you smoke. Studies show that patients who are smokers are less likely to respond to anti- TNF-a drugs and to methotrexate, which are both RA treatments.
- Smoking can make symptoms worse if you have RA. Smoking can cause RA pain to intensify, and it can cause the RA to spread and inflame other parts of your body. Smoking can also lead to other health complications that could worsen your RA.
- Women are more likely to develop RA if they smoke. A study found that women who smoke daily could increase their risk for developing RA by more than double.
Smoking may be a calming mechanism, and it may help to distract you from the pain of RA, but in addition to worsening your RA symptoms, smoking can lead to a number of other health problems.
If you’re a person who smokes, you may want to consider quitting to help reduce your risk for health complications.
Tobacco is addictive, so making the decision to quit smoking can be difficult and emotional.
Here are some tips you can follow to help you on your journey:
- Speak with your doctor. You may be able to quit cold turkey, but many smokers can’t. Your doctor can talk with you about the different options that are available. There are focus groups related to quitting, and there are also medications available with and without a prescription that can help you quit.
- Decide what type of smoking cessation plan you want to follow. Having a plan can help you stay prepared for things like cravings and withdrawals, as well as allow you to set realistic expectations for yourself and stay motivated throughout your process.
- Pick the day that you plan to quit. Picking a day to quit is a key step in the process. If you pick a day that’s too soon, you may not have enough time to prepare. But if you pick a day too far away, that leaves the opportunity to change your mind about quitting.
- Tell your friends and loved ones that you’re trying to quit. This may be helpful for them so that they aren’t doing things like smoking around you and offering you cigarettes. It may be helpful for you because it could potentially give you much-needed support.
- Find other activities to distract yourself from smoking. For example, you can keep gum with you to chew on when the urge to smoke strikes. You can also try picking up new hobbies to distract yourself from urges.
- Know what to expect. Because nicotine is a drug, your body will go through withdrawal. You may feel depressed, restless, cranky, anxious, frustrated, or mad. You may be unable to sleep, or you might gain weight. Talk with your doctor about available resources to help address and cope with your withdrawal symptoms.
- Don’t give up if you relapse. It may take several tries before you can fully kick the habit. If your first plan doesn’t work, try a different one. You may relapse several times before you finally quit, but that’s OK.
RA is a type of inflammatory arthritis, which means that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. This causes the synovial tissue cells, or the soft tissue that lines the inside of the joints, to divide, thicken, and swell.
The thickening of synovial tissues can lead to pain and inflammation in the joints. Inflammatory arthritis is unlike other forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, which is a result of wear and tear of your joints.
RA affects about 1.5 million people in the United States. The disease is more prevalent — nearly three times — among people assigned female at birth than those assigned male.
RA can affect almost any joints in your body, including:
If you have RA, warmth and swelling in your joints is common, but these symptoms might go unnoticed.
You’re also likely to experience tenderness and pain in your joints. You may feel stiff in the morning for more than 30 minutes, or you may have joint pain and swelling for several weeks.
Usually, more than one joint is affected. RA commonly affects smaller joints, such as those present in the hands and feet.
In addition to the joints, RA can also have negative effects on other parts of your body. Other common symptoms of RA include:
- loss of appetite
- extreme fatigue
- dryness, extreme sensitivity, or pain in your eyes
- skin nodules
- inflamed blood vessels
Currently, there’s no cure for RA. Medication can be used to treat the disease, but severe cases can result in loss of mobility or the development of joint deformities.
Quitting smoking can help with your RA, including helping improve your quality of life and potentially enabling you to reduce your RA medications. Quitting may also be beneficial for those around you.
The American Lung Association lists smoking as the leading cause of preventable death.
Secondhand smoke can be just as harmful, so it’s important to think about the safety of your kids, other family members, and friends.
If you’re struggling to quit, help is available.
Your doctor can tell you about nearby smoking cessation programs, as well as other resources, and work with you to create the best plan for you.