Arthritis Watch

JANUARY 01, 2009

RA Rates Rise in Women

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) among women is seeing a surge again after declining for 4 decades. From 1955 to 1994, the incidence of RA was falling, but the trends began to shift in the mid-1990s. RA is now diagnosed in about 54 of every 100,000 women, compared with about 36 in every 100,000 women in earlier decades.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that overall, the percentage of the entire population with the disease increased from 0.85% to 0.95%. "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," said lead investigator Sherine E. Gabriel, MD.

The reasons behind the increase are unknown. The researchers hypothesize that environmental factors may be part of the cause. Studies have suggested an association between RA and diet, coffee intake, alcohol consumption, and body mass index. A causal relationship, however, has not been shown. Many researchers believe one or more infectious agents might act as a trigger for the disease, yet no definitive research has identified a virus or other agent.

Weight Bad for Knee Osteoarthritis

Middle-aged, obese adults face greater risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee by age 85, found a study reported in Arthritis Care & Research (September 15, 2008). The study was based on analyzing data on >3000 patients in North Carolina over a 13-year period.

The patients were interviewed and given a clinical exam, including x-rays and body mass index measurements. The study results showed that obese patients had a much higher lifetime risk—64.5%—versus 34.9% for normal-weight and 44.1% for overweight participants. Furthermore, the patients with prior knee injuries in their lifetime also had greater risk, compared with patients without injuries (56.8% vs 42.3%).

Quit Smoking to Improve Arthritis

The findings of a preliminary study show that patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may see an improvement in their condition if they quit smoking.

The study included >14,000 patients with RA who were divided into 3 groups: nonsmokers, smokers, and former smokers. At study onset, 1851 patients were active smokers, but a fifth agreed to stop smoking. Presenting the study at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, lead researcher Mark C. Fisher, MD, said that patients who quit smoking saw significant improvements in their symptoms.

RA Is Hard on Gums

A new study found that individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are at greater risk of gum disease (periodontal disease). For the study, the researchers looked for periodontal disease in 153 patients, aged 45 to 84, who had RA for an average of 11 years. Of the patients, 82% reported periodontal symptoms, including a history of gum disease, gum recession, and gum bleeding.

After additional research, the investigators found that gum disease correlated significantly with a patient's RA disease activity score and with rheumatoid nodules. The researchers concluded that periodontal disease is independently linked with RA disease activity.

Juvenile Arthritis Does Not Affect Education, Career

Juvenile arthritis does not appear to impede young adults from reaching the same level of education and occupation as their peers.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the impact of juvenile arthritis on academic and occupational outcomes during the transition from adolescence to adulthood (eg, 18-25 years). The study involved 45 young adults with disease, 46 peers without juvenile arthritis, and their parents. The findings were based on questionnaires completed soon after the participants' 18th birthdays.

Reporting in the October 2008 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, the data indicated that the number of participants who graduated from high school, were employed, and expressed interest in college or seeking employment was similar between the participants with juvenile arthritis and the control group. The results also found that the initial severity of arthritis, time since diagnosis, and disease type had no effect on educational or occupational ability.

Researcher Cynthia A. Gerhardt emphasized, however, that it "may be important to continue to follow these young adults over time to better understand the development of occupational challenges should they occur as these youth mature and continue to manage the ongoing physical effects of their disease."

F A S T   F A C T: Juvenile arthritis affects 30,000 to 50,000 children in the US annually.