Link between manufacturing jobs and rheumatoid arthritis

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Certain occupations may increase the risk of workers developing rheumatoid arthritis, new research shows. The findings indicate that noxious airborne agents, and other work-related factors, may contribute to the development of the autoimmune disease.

It is thought that the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis is caused in susceptible individuals by environmental factors triggering autoimmune reactions.

Anna llar and her colleagues, from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, analysed information from 3,522 rheumatoid arthritis sufferers and 5,580 controls from the Swedish population-based Epidemiological Investigation of Rheumatoid Arthritis study, to determine if certain occupational hazards and exposures might be involved.

The study gathered information collected from blood samples and questionnaires between 1996 and 2014 on environmental, genetic and immunological factors.

The findings showed that there was a higher chance of developing the disease amongst male workers in the manufacturing sector than amongst workers within the professional, administrative and technical sectors (the reference group).

The risk was increased twofold for male electrical and electronics workers and material handling operators. There was a threefold risk indicated amongst bricklayers and concrete workers.

While the number of women who work in the manufacturing sector is relatively small compared with male numbers, there was no increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis shown among these women. Assistant nurses and attendants did show a marginally increased risk, however.

The smoking habits, alcohol consumption, educational level and BMI of participants were all taken into account by the researchers’ analysis, all of which are known contributors to rheumatoid arthritis and are lifestyle-related risk factors that llar says “haven’t been considered to the same extent” by previous research.

“The findings of our study therefore suggests that airborne harmful exposures and other work-related factors may in fact play a part in development of the disease,” llar added. 

She stated that more research will need to be carried out to pinpoint the precise exposures that may be involved.