Recently-published research has indicated that certain occupations may elevate the risk of workers developing rheumatoid arthritis. The study analyzed several thousand people in Sweden and suggested that exposure to certain airborne agents may contribute to the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the body’s joints. It is caused by the body’s immune system attacking the body’s own tissues. While most cases of rheumatoid arthritis affect the joints of the hands and feet, it can also affect the knees, elbows, and even the skin, heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, and treatments against the disease normally only seek to counteract the pain and swelling that the disease causes. The causes of rheumatoid arthritis are largely unknown, although it is believed that certain individuals are genetically predisposed to developing the disease and that environmental factors may play a role in triggering the disease’s development.
In this Swedish study, it was found that male workers in the manufacturing sector had higher risks of developing rheumatoid arthritis than men who worked in professional, administrative, and technical occupations. The highest risk was among men who were bricklayers and concrete workers, who had triple the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Male electronics workers and material handlers had double the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
The same effects weren’t seen among female blue collar workers, most likely because of the relatively small number of women working in those industries. The highest risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis among women was found among nurses and nurse attendants.
The researchers controlled for smoking, alcohol consumption, educational level, and body mass index, all of which are factors that contribute to development of rheumatoid arthritis. The fact that they found elevated risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis even after controlling for those other factors seems to indicate that those occupations expose workers to environmental factors that may trigger rheumatoid arthritis in those genetically susceptible to the disease. In particular, the researchers singled out the exposure to noxious airborne agents in those industries that showed the highest risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.