We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our site. Cookies are files stored in your browser and are used by most websites to help personalise your web experience.

By continuing to use our website without changing the settings, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

Find out more
For more information, go to

Rheumatoid arthritis risk 'may be elevated for people in certain jobs'

Published on 11 August 2017
Rheumatoid arthritis risk 'may be elevated for people in certain jobs'

People in certain lines of work may be more susceptible to developing rheumatoid arthritis than others, according to a new study.

Research from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden has offered evidence that work-related factors such as noxious airborne agents may contribute to the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis, highlighting the need for workplaces to take action to reduce these risks.

The highest-risk professions
This study, published in the medical journal Arthritis Research & Care, assessed data from 3,522 Swedish individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and 5,580 control subjects, including information on environmental, genetic and immunological factors between 1996 and 2014.

Male workers in the manufacturing sector were shown to have a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis than those working in professional, administrative and technical roles, with electrical and electronics workers and material handling operators experiencing a twofold increased risk, while bricklayers and concrete workers were three times more likely to develop the disease.

Among women, assistant nurses and attendants were shown to have a slightly increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, while those in the manufacturing sector did not - though this may be to do with the relatively small number of women who work in this sector compared with men.

Reasons for these trends
It is thought that this could be a result of workplace exposure to environmental factors that trigger autoimmune reactions, including silica, asbestos, organic solvents and motor exhaust.

This could show that such factors have just as important a role to play in causing rheumatoid arthritis as better-established influences, such as smoking habits, alcohol use, educational level and body mass index.

Study leader Anna Ilar of the Karolinska Institutet said: "Previous studies have not considered these lifestyle-related risk factors to the same extent. Our findings therefore indicate that work-related factors, such as airborne harmful exposures, may contribute to disease development.

"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."

Arthritis Research UK's view
Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, said: "In the UK, rheumatoid arthritis affects over 400,000 people, of all ages, and brings life-changing pain and fatigue. Research has shown that some activities, such as smoking and eating meat, can increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis for some individuals, but more research needs to be done.

"So far, we haven’t seen much research into the effects of noxious airborne agents, and so we welcome this study which further explores risk factors. The more that researchers know about what might cause the condition, the more we can do to help reduce the chance of people getting it in the future."

For more information, go to
Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.