BRICKIES and nurses are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those that have a desk job, a study found. Male bricklayers have a three-time greater risk of swollen, stiff and painful joints. Electricians, material handlers and those working in manufacturing face twice the risk.
Among women, nurses are at a slightly higher risk than secretaries and other professions, such as lawyers and teachers.
Rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common form of arthritis in the UK, affecting around 700,000 people. It is caused when the immune system – which usually fights infection – attacks the cells that line the joints by mistake, making the joints swollen, stiff and painful.
Over time, this can damage the joint itself, the cartilage and nearby bone.
Researchers say exposure to chemicals and pollutants, such as silica, asbestos and exhaust fumes, are likely to trigger the condition. They analysed environmental, genetic, and immunological factors collected from blood samples and questionnaires from over 9,000 people between 1996 and 2014.
Some 3,522 had rheumatoid arthritis and 5,580 did not.
The study took participants’ smoking habits, alcohol use, educational level, and body mass index in to account. These are all factors associated with rheumatoid arthritis. There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis but drugs and physiotherapy can ease the pain.
Study leader Anna Ilar, from the Karolinska Institute, in Sweden, said: “Previous studies have not considered these lifestyle-related risk factors to the same extent.
“Our findings therefore indicate that work-related factors, such as airborne harmful exposures, may contribute to disease development.
The findings are published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.
Natalie Carter, from Arthritis Research UK, said: “So far we haven’t seen much research into the effects of noxious airborne agents, and so we welcome this study which further explores risk factors.
“The more that researchers know about what might cause the condition, the more we can do to help reduce the chance of people getting it in the future.”
Ailsa Bosworth, from the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, said: “This research is interesting and clearly there is a need for further research before specific chemicals can be identified.
“But we are aware of people who have contacted our helpline in the past who believe that exposure to particular chemicals has triggered their RA.”
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