Today, Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women is on the Increase

In a recent study it was revealed that after a 40-year decline, rheumatoid arthritis in women has skyrocketed in the last ten years.  The study was presented by researchers from the Mayo Clinc, at the annual meeting of American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals in San Francisco.

The study utilized data from the Rochester Epidemiology Project which, according to researcher Sherine Gabriel, “contains essentially complete medical information on all residents of Olmsted County, Minn., from the time they were born or the date they moved to Olmsted County, until the time they die or the date they move away.”

Known as one of the most crippling forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease affecting approximately 20 million people worldwide.  In the United States alone it is estimated that some 1.2 million people suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.  Rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA, causes a chronic inflammation of the joints.  It also causes severe inflammation in other organs of the body.  It is a painful condition that, when left untreated, can cause permanent disability.  

Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women
Incidences of rheumatoid arthritis had been in steady decline in the United States for some forty years between 1954 and 1994.  However, when examining more current data Dr. Gabriel and her associates discovered that in the period from 1995 to early 2005, the number of women in the United States suffering from RA jumped by nearly half from 36.4 per 100,000 in the previous decade to 54 per 100,000.  

According to Gabriel, “The rapid change in incidence [in women] is suggestive of an environmental factor or factors." Gabriel and her research team also determined that rheumatoid arthritis in men held steady over the same time period at approximately 29 cases per 100,000.  In the overall population of the U.S. the rate for rheumatoid arthritis also increased, climbing from 0.85 percent up to 0.95 percent over the same time period.  

The study’s co-author, Dr. Hilal Maradit-Kremers, associate professor of epidemiology at the Mayo Clinic, stated that, “These rates apply to the entire U.S. population,” and “Based on this new data, the estimated number of people with RA in the U.S. is probably higher than 1.2 million.”  

This is in contrast to prior research, which had shown that rheumatoid arthritis instances in the U.S. had dropped from the 1995 level of 2.1 million to 1.3 million.  Judging by the current rate of case growth, researchers expect an even greater increase of prevalence in coming years.  

Dr. Gabriel has said her research group intends to analyze the data based on disease severity, in order to determine whether the increasing incidence reflects an added number of mild or severe cases.”  As she went on to further explain, ”We will also try to examine risk factors in order to generate hypothesis about what might be behind this observed change in incidence.”

Possible Reasons for Rise of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Unlike osteoarthritis, which is caused by external damage to joint and connective tissue, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammation of the joints.  It is caused when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys it’s own tissues.
As for the current rise of RA cases among women, researchers are unsure of what the cause is. 

They suspect that environmental and possibly hormonal factors may be playing a role.  Some studies have suggested a strong link between smoking and an increased risk for RA.  Other studies have also found evidence which suggests an association between RA and diet, alcohol consumption, coffee intake and body mass index (BMI).  However they have yet to prove that such a causal relationship exists.  

Some researchers believe the onset of RA may be brought on by one or more currently unidentified infectious agents.  According to Dr. Gabriel, “This is a significant finding and an indicator that more research needs to be done to better understand the causes and treatment of this devastating disease.” 

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Heart Attacks
Also revealed at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals, was new Swedish research that seemed to confirm previous findings that suggested that RA also increases the risks for heart attacks.  

Using data on 7,954 Swedish RA patients, Marie Gunnarsson, graduate student at the Karolinska Institutet, in Stockholm, matched their data with 38,913 people in the general population.  The researchers followed both groups over a 10-year period.  During that time they collected information that showed a steady rise in heart attack risks for RA patients.  

The Next Step
As to the recent rise in cases of rheumatoid arthritis in women, researchers are still puzzled.  Maradit-Kremers, Gabriel and associates remain unsure as to why numbers are on the rise after dropping steadily for so many years.  However, based on the methods used to conduct the research, she thought the study pointed to environmental factors, rather than an increased awareness among doctors of RA symptoms as some have suggested as a possible cause. 

As for the next step, Dr. Maradit-Kremers has suggested it will take more digging in order to try and identify the causes of the increase.  The verdict is still out, but speculations range from dietary to hormonal changes to chemical exposures.  Researchers acknowledge the need to take a fresh look at this disease, according to Dr. Maradit-Kremers. “Because preventing it is better than trying to treat the pain and disability and the other things that come along with it like heart disease and diabetes.”

As it stands currently, there are few indicators as to why women seem at a greater risk for onset RA then men.  Nor are there any solid indicators as to which groups of women might be at the most risk.  All that is known, it seems, is that instances of rheumatoid arthritis in women are most certainly on the rise.  

Sign up for our Newsletter
Email Address:

Contact Us