Smoking has long been recognized as a risk factor for developing rheumatoid arthritis. Each time I reported on a study that concluded smoking was a risk factor for the disease, I would get emails or comments from current smokers asking what that meant for them. I wasn't sure because I had not seen studies that clearly stated how tobacco exposure influenced severity of rheumatoid arthritis in people already diagnosed with the disease.
According to study results published online (July 2013) in Arthritis Care and Research, in a large prospective cohort of patients with early rheumatoid arthritis, smoking had no apparent effect on disease activity and disability but smoking did reduce radiographic disease progression (i.e., progression evident on x-rays) at 1-year follow-up. Researchers concluded that nicotine may play an anti-inflammatory role which would account for lower systemic inflammation and less progression of joint damage in current smokers with early rheumatoid arthritis.
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