Arthritis More Common in Smokers, Divorced
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Researchers have long known that people with arthritis are more likely than others to be obese, older and less physically active. Now, new research shows that certain other factors may also be associated with the risk of arthri
According to Dr. Fatima Mili and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) in Atlanta, Georgia, arthritis appears to occur more commonly in people who are separated or divorced, and in those who have ever smoked cigarettes.
In an interview with Reuters Health, study author Dr. Charles G. Helmick explained that identifying arthritis early helps treat the condition, because it enables patients to begin to ease their symptoms sooner rather than later. As such, along with asking patients about traditional risk factors for arthritis, Helmick suggested that healthcare providers try to detect early symptoms of the condition in smokers and divorcees.
"So if you're a healthcare provider, you may want to ask such people if they're having joint problems," Helmick noted.
The findings are based on telephone surveys of more than 54,000 people living in 15 states and Puerto Rico. The surveys questioned people about their behaviors and diagnosed them with arthritis if a doctor had ever done so, or if they complained of ongoing joint pain during the past year.
The study did not differentiate between osteoarthritis, which usually occurs in older people, and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that is more common in women than men and is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 60, although it can occur at any age.
The investigators found that 17,556 of the people that responded to the survey had arthritis. As reported in previous studies, women and people who were older, obese, inactive or had low education and incomes were more likely than others to be diagnosed with the condition.
However, the researchers also spotted some new, previously unreported characteristics linked with arthritis: people who were divorced or separated, and those with a history of smoking cigarettes.
Specifically, people who were divorced were 30% more likely than similarly-aged married people to have arthritis, while smoking everyday was associated with a 60% increased risk of arthritis, relatively to those with no history of smoking, according to the report in a recent issue of the Journal of Rheumatology.
Previous studies have produced results that suggest a link between smoking and arthritis, the authors write, while others have refuted this relationship.
However, in this study, when the researchers eliminated the effects of other factors that can influence arthritis risk, past or present smoking was clearly associated with a higher risk of arthritis.
"When you combine all the types of arthritis, smoking seems to have an effect," Helmick told Reuters Health. "We really don't have a good reason for that," he added.
In terms of why arthritis could be linked to a disrupted homelife, the researcher suggested that severe types of the condition may put stress on a marriage, possibly leading to separation and divorce. Alternatively, Helmick suggested that the stress of a breakup could also aggravate the beginning stages of arthritis, which might induce people to seek medical advice about the condition for the first time, leading to a formal diagnosis of arthritis.