Women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who smoke, or who used to smoke, may be more likely to contract a severe form of the disease than nonsmokers. According to a recent study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism, those who are more likely to have a more severe form of RA lacked the gene GSTM1, which produces an enzyme that counteracts cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke.
Previous studies had already linked more severe RA symptoms with smoking, but for this study the group was separated into those who had the GSTM1 gene and those who did not. The researchers found severe RA was significantly more common in smokers who lacked the gene. Among those who had the GSTM1 gene, smoking was not a factor in the severity of RA. In addition, the study concluded that joint damage was as severe even if a patient quit smoking after being diagnosed with RA.