Rheumatoid arthritis, a painful disease in which a person’s immune system attacks the joints, appears to be more common among people in certain types of jobs, researchers suggest.
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.
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.
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.
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 Aug. 10 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.