Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden believe that this link exists because certain work-related factors, like exposure to noxious airborne agents, “may contribute to the pathogens of rheumatoid arthritis.”
According to researchers, the development of rheumatoid arthritis is thought to be influenced by environmental factors because they trigger autoimmune reactions in susceptible individuals.
So to see if certain job hazards may be influencing such a development, researchers looked at information from 3,522 people with diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis, as well as 5,580 control from the Swedish population-based Epidemiological Investigation of Rheumatoid Arthritis study. From blood samples and questionnaires between 1996 and 2014, the study also looked at information on environmental, genetic and immunological factors.
They also took into account the smoking habits, alcohol use, educational level and body mass index of the participants – all of which are also factors of rheumatoid arthritis.
From their research, the team found that certain occupations impacted the developmental risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
The jobs that affected men the most were those in the manufacturing sector. Men who work in electrical, electronics and material handling are at a two-fold increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis than men who worked in professional, administrative and technical jobs. However, men who work as bricklayers and concrete workers had a threefold increase.
For women, those who worked as assistant nurses and attendants had only a slight increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers didn’t find any evidence that manufacturing jobs affected women the same as they did men (this may be because there is a relatively small amount of women who work in the sector compared to men, the team hypothesizes).
“Our findings, therefore, indicate that work-related factors, such as airborne harmful exposures, may contribute to disease development,” author Anna Ilar said in a statement. “It’s 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.”
Ilar says more research is needed to pinpoint the exact exposures that may be influencing the development of the disease. The team believes, however, that silica, asbestos, organic solvents and motor exhaust may be the top suspects.
Studies over the years have found similar links between lifestyle factors and the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
In 2013, researchers at the University of Manchester found that smoking, obesity and having diabetes increased the risk of developing the disease.
In fact, a 2010 study published in BMJ found that smoking was behind the development of more than a third of severe rheumatoid arthritis cases.
According to Statistics Canada, rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the body’s immune system attacked joints within the body and most often affects the hands, wrists and feet. This results in pain, inflammation and joint damage.
About 16 per cent of Canadians (or over 4.2 million people) ages 15 and older reportedly have some form of arthritis, with rheumatoid arthritis being among the most common types of arthritis. It’s projected that over 6.7 million Canadians will be living with the disease by 2031.