Contraceptive pill linked to lowered risk of rheumatoid arthritis

August 17, 2017, British Medical Journal

Taking the contraceptive pill, particularly for seven or more consecutive years, is linked to a lowered risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, finds research published online in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

But no significant link was found for breastfeeding—a practice that has been associated with a protective effect—after accounting for various potentially influential factors, the findings show.

Because rheumatoid arthritis is two to three times as common in women as it is in men, it is thought hormonal and reproductive factors may partly explain this gender difference. But the research to date has produced equivocal results.

In a bid to look at these issues in more depth, the researchers looked at the possible link between the development of the disease and use of the Pill and/or breastfeeding among who had had at least one child.

They drew on data from the Swedish Epidemiological Investigation of Rheumatoid Arthritis (EIRA), which included women aged 18 and above, living in a defined area of Sweden between 1996 and 2014.

During this timeframe, 2809 women were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and 5312 women, randomly selected from the general population and matched for age, acted as a comparison group.

Blood samples were taken from all the participants to check for antibodies (ACPA) to rheumatoid arthritis, and the women were quizzed in depth about their contraceptive and reproductive histories; their lifestyle; whether they had breastfed their kids; and their educational attainment.

In all, 2578 women with arthritis and 4129 women from the comparison group were included in the final analysis. Of these, 884 with rheumatoid arthritis and 1949 from the comparison group had breastfed at least one child between 2006 and 2014.

Women who had used an oral contraceptive at any time had a lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis than those who had never done so.

The risk was 15% lower in current users of the Pill and 13% lower in past users. And the association was significant for women who tested positive for ACPA antibodies, even after taking account of tobacco and alcohol consumption, compared with women who had never used an oral contraceptive.

Nine out of 10 people who test positive for ACPA (anti-citrullinated protein) antibodies will have rheumatoid , and the presence of these antibodies may indicate more serious disease.

Using the Pill for more than seven years—the average length of use among the study participants—was associated with a 19% lower risk of developing , and this was the case for those who tested positive and negative for ACPA.

Although a lower risk was also found among women who had breastfed at least one child, this was not significant after potentially influential factors were accounted for.

This is an observational study so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, added to which the researchers were unable to glean any information about the dose or type of oral contraceptive the used.

But the number of participants was large, and a wide range of potentially influential factors was looked at, the researchers point out.

Explore further: Certain occupations linked to an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis

More information: Oral contraceptives, breastfeeding and the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis: results from the Swedish EIRA study , Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases (2017). ard.bmj.com/doi/10.1136/annrheumdis-2017-211620

Related Stories

Certain occupations linked to an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis

August 10, 2017
New research indicates that certain occupations may put workers at an elevated risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. The findings, which appear in Arthritis Care & Research, suggest that work-related factors, such as noxious ...

Occupational textile dust exposure linked to rheumatoid arthritis

January 15, 2016
Occupational exposure to textile dust is associated with a more than doubling in the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, finds research published online in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Obesity may influence rheumatoid arthritis blood tests

April 10, 2017
New research reveals that in women, obesity may influence blood tests used to diagnose and monitor rheumatoid arthritis. The findings, which appear in Arthritis Care & Research, indicate that physicians need to take obesity ...

Recent gut and urinary tract infections may curb risk of rheumatoid arthritis

February 4, 2015
Recent gut and urinary tract infections may curb the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, suggests research published online in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Breast-feeding might reduce moms' odds of rheumatoid arthritis

January 7, 2014
(HealthDay)—Women who breast-feed may have a lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis later in life, new research suggests.

Recommended for you

How the brain plays a role in rheumatoid arthritis inflammation

June 18, 2018
In patients with chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, there has been limited understanding of how this inflammation affects the brain.

New 3-D imaging analysis technique could lead to improved arthritis treatment

June 18, 2018
An algorithm to monitor the joints of patients with arthritis, which could change the way that the severity of the condition is assessed, has been developed by a team of engineers, physicians and radiologists led by the University ...

Joint resolution: A link between Huntington's disease and rheumatoid arthritis

May 15, 2018
Using new analytic tools, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have decoded the epigenetic landscape for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a common ...

Get off the golf cart if you have knee osteoarthritis

April 28, 2018
From presidents to retirees, more than 17 million people over the age of 50 golf regularly. Knee osteoarthritis, which causes swelling, pain and difficulty moving the joint, is one of the leading causes of disability in this ...

How environmental pollutants and genetics work together in rheumatoid arthritis

April 19, 2018
It has been known for more than three decades that individuals with a particular version of a gene—human leukocyte antigen (HLA)—have an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis.

The bugs in your gut could make you weak in the knees

April 19, 2018
Bacteria in the gut, known as the gut microbiome, could be the culprit behind arthritis and joint pain that plagues people who are obese, according to a new study published today in JCI Insight.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.