Manufacturing Workers More Likely to Develop Rheumatoid Arthritis

Work-related factors, such as noxious airborne agents, may elevate the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

Noxious airborne agents in the workplace may contribute to the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), new findings suggest.

Based on the belief that environmental factors may play a role in the development of RA by triggering autoimmune reactions in individuals, investigators sought to examine whether certain occupational hazards and exposures are involved.

For the study, published in Arthritis Care & Research, investigators analyzed data from 3522 individuals with RA and 5580 controls from the epidemiological investigation of rheumatoid arthritis (EIRA) study.

EIRA is a Swedish population-based study that gathered environmental, genetic, and immunological factors via collected blood samples and questionnaires between 1996 and 2014.

The results of the current study found male workers who worked in the manufacturing sector had a higher risk of developing RA compared with employees within the professional, administrative, and technical sectors.

After examining the manufacturing sector more closely, the investigators found male electrical and electronics workers and material handling operators had a 2-fold increased risk of RA compared with the reference group. Additionally, bricklayers and concrete workers had a 3-fold increased risk.

For women, assistant nurses and attendants had a slightly increased risk of RA, but women in the manufacturing sector did not. The investigators noted this may be attributed to the relatively small number of women who work in the manufacturing sector compared with men.

Factors such as smoking habits, alcohol use, education level, and body mass index were also considered.

“Previous studies have not considered these lifestyle-related risk factors to the same extent,” said author Anna Ilar. “Our findings therefore indicated that the work-related factors, such as airborne harmful exposures, may contribute to disease development. It is 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.”

Although the findings show promise, the authors noted that more research needs to be done to find exactly which exposures are involved.

RA is a chronic disease affecting more than 1.3 million individuals in the United States, and as many as 1% worldwide. It is one of the most common autoimmune disorders.