No one knows exactly what causes rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but certain risk factors certainly increase the chances of developing it. Your genes, exposure to various toxins and infections, and being smoker all seem to play an important role. Your weight, biological sex (being female), and getting older also contribute to your rheumatoid arthritis risk. Now there’s a new risk factor that may be worth adding to the list: frequent digestive distress.
In a new study, published in the journal Rheumatology, researchers followed a group of more than 65,000 French women to see whether having a gastrointestinal problem that might be described by others as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) was linked to developing RA over a period of about six years.
The findings indicated that there was a significant correlation between having chronic diarrhea (IBS-D) and the chances of developing RA. They did not find any link between RA and chronic constipation (IBS-C) or alternating bouts of diarrhea/constipation (IBS-M).
The association between chronic diarrhea and RA was especially high among smokers and former smokers.
RA is an autoimmune disorder that causes painful, stiff, and swollen joints, along with inflammation that may lead to problems throughout the entire body. Although it’s not clear that chronic diarrhea actually causes RA, the fact that participants were more likely to develop RA after experiencing this digestive issue suggests that changes in the balance of bacteria in the gut may be a key factor.
“These data fit with the mucosal origin hypothesis of RA, where interaction between [an imbalance of microorganisms in the intestines] and smoking could occur at an early stage to promote emergence of autoimmunity, followed years later by clinical disease,” the authors concluded.
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Pond E. Chronic Diarrhea Associated With Increased Risk for Incident Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women. Rheumatology Advisor. June 8, 2020. https://www.rheumatologyadvisor.com/home/rheumatoid-arthritis-advisor/chronic-diarrhea-associated-with-increased-risk-for-incident-rheumatoid-arthritis-in-women.
Singh DK, et al. Chronic Diarrhoea and Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis: Findings From the French E3N-EPIC Cohort Study. Rheumatology. May 17, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.3899/jrheum.181019.