Certain occupations may put workers at an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a new study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.
It’s thought that work-related factors, such as noxious airborne agents, may contribute to the pathogenesis of the condition by triggering autoimmune reactions in susceptible individuals.
Swedish researchers found that male workers in the manufacturing sector had a higher risk of developing RA than their counterparts in a reference group which included workers from the professional, administrative and technical sectors.
Within the manufacturing sector, male electrical and electronics workers and material handling operators had a twofold increased risk of RA compared with those in the reference group. Bricklayers and concrete workers had a threefold increased risk.
Among women, assistant nurses and attendants had a slightly higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Those in the manufacturing sector did not, although this may be due to the relatively small number of women who work in this sector compared with men.
The analysis took into account participants’ smoking habits, alcohol use, educational level and body mass index, all of which are factors known to be associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
“Previous studies have not considered these lifestyle-related risk factors to the same extent,” said study co-author Anna Ilar, of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. “Our findings therefore indicate that work-related factors, such as airborne harmful exposures, may contribute to disease development.”
Further research is needed to identify the exposures — such as silica, asbestos, organic solvents and motor exhaust — that may be involved, the researchers noted.