Saturday, September 24, 2011

Coffee, Alcohol, and More That May Affect RA


Rheumatoid arthritis

By Tammy Worth
About 1.3 million Americans are affected by rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors.

Strong medication can help prevent joint destruction and painful symptoms.

But there are other things that may affect RA risk and symptoms. In the big picture, these play relatively minor roles in RA (compared to, say, taking the right medication).

Still, here are some factors to keep in mind.



One factor that affects RA is smoking, says Susan Goodman, MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

"Smoking clearly has an impact—it makes it worse and increases the likelihood of getting it," she says. "There clearly is something about smoking that is a bad actor."

RA nonsmokers have fewer swollen, painful joints than smokers, research suggests. RA smokers are three times as likely to have rheumatoid factor—a sign of more severe disease—and twice as likely to have joint damage.



The link between coffee or tea and RA is debatable, Dr. Goodman says.

Research has suggested that decaf coffee (four or more cups a day) can increase the risk of getting RA, but caffeinated coffee has no impact, and tea may reduce risk. Other research found no correlation between decaf and RA.

One issue, though, is that coffee may make some RA medications, such as methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall), less potent.

"There is not a consistent message there," Dr. Goodman notes. Check with your doctor; it may be fine to have a cup of joe.



While research on the topic is scant, there does seem to be a link between weather and RA symptoms. It is likely that barometric pressure and temperature changes have the biggest impact on symptoms.

"Many, many, many people say it, so my sense is it is something we just don't have an appropriate investigational design to test," Dr. Goodman says.

She says any change in climate tends to worsen symptoms—so RA patients may fare better when the weather is more consistent.
Credit: Corbis

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