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Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk Rises With Working in the Cold

Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk Rises With Working in the Cold

Working in cold environments is associated with an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, a new study from Sweden suggests.

Both genetic and environmental risk factors play a role in disease development, but exposure to cold environments has long been suspected as a factor linked to the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

Led by Pingling Zeng of the Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, researchers conducted the first population-based study to identify a positive association between working in cold environments and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis among healthy persons. Their findings were published in Rheumatic & Musculoskeletal Diseases.

The study

The study used self-reported information on work environment conditions to investigate whether there is an association between working in cold indoor or cold outdoor environments and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis (overall), anticitrullinated protein antibody (ACPA)–positive rheumatoid arthritis, and ACPA-negative rheumatoid arthritis.

In total, data were analyzed from 3659 rheumatoid arthritis cases, all of which met the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 1987 or ACR 2010 criteria, and 5925 controls.

In addition, because working in cold environments is often accompanied with exposure to occupational physical workload, researchers also investigated the additive interaction between these occupational exposures as they relate to the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

Based on answers to a questionnaire, participants were categorized according to whether they had been exposed to cold indoor work environments or to cold outdoor work environments current or past. The researchers then compared the occurrence of rheumatoid arthritis in the exposed and unexposed subjects. Exposure to occupational physical workloads (eg, bending/turning, repetitive hand/finger movements, lifting or carrying more than 10 kg) also was assessed.

The findings

The odds ratio of developing rheumatoid arthritis was 1.5 among subjects who had ever worked in cold work environments compared with those who reported never having been exposed to cold work environments. When the exposure was stratified into cold outdoor and cold indoor environment, the ORs of developing rheumatoid arthritis were 1.5 and 1.7, respectively. These results did not change substantially after adjusting for confounders, such as cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, education level, body mass index, silica exposure, occupational class, and occupational physical workloads.

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