16 August 2017

Got arthritis? Your job might be the problem...

If your occupation is on this list, you might have an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful disease where a person's immune system attacks the joints, causing chronic inflammation in the peripheral joints of the hands, feet, elbows, shoulders, knees, hips and feet. According to Health24, the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are stiffness early in the morning, pain and swelling of the joints.

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known and is usually linked to a genetic predisposition.

But new research shows that rheumatoid arthritis appears to be more common among people in certain types of jobs.

The findings "indicate that work-related factors, such as airborne harmful exposures, may contribute to disease development," study author Anna Ilar said. She is a doctoral student in epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Some more at risk than others

The study looked at more than 3 500 people in Sweden with rheumatoid arthritis, and nearly 5 600 people without the disease.

Among men, those in manufacturing jobs had a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis than those in the professional, administrative and technical sectors, the findings showed. The risk was twice as high for electrical and electronics workers, and three times higher for bricklayers and concrete workers.


               The risk for rheumatoid arthritis is high in men who work in jobs such as construction and electronics.

Among women, assistant nurses and attendants had a slightly higher risk, but women in manufacturing jobs did not. The researchers suspect that's because fewer women than men work in manufacturing.


                                                      Assistant nurses had a slightly higher risk to develop rheumatoid arthritis. 

More study is needed to zero in on the exposures that may be involved, Ilar noted. Potential culprits include silica, asbestos, organic solvents and engine exhaust.

The report was published online in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.

"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," Ilar said in a journal news release.

The researchers said they accounted for lifestyle factors associated with rheumatoid arthritis, such as body fat, smoking, alcohol use and education level. However, while the study found an association between certain occupations and rheumatoid arthritis risk, it didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Managing rheumatoid arthritis

Here are a few practical tips to manage your arthritis: 

  • Early diagnosis and treatment is important to avoid the onset of further inflammation and the loss of quality of life, according to the South African Medical Journal.
  • Exercise and physiotherapy can help you manage the symptoms.
  • Discuss medication to manage pain and inflammation with your doctor.
  • Include omega-3 and -6 supplements in your diet to alleviate pain and inflammation.

All images supplied by iStock.


Ask the Expert

Arthritis expert

Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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