Rheumatoid arthritis risk increases with occupational exposure to textile dust. Additionally, occupational dust exposure is also linked to a risk of developing antibodies to rheumatoid arthritis, thus potentially speeding up progression of the disease.
The researchers analyzed 910 Malaysian women who were diagnosed with early rheumatoid arthritis and 910 women of similar age without rheumatoid arthritis.
Women were asked if they ever worked in the textile industry and what kind of chemicals they were exposed to. Blood samples were also taken to check for rheumatoid arthritis antibodies known as ACPA.
Forty-one of the women with rheumatoid arthritis were also exposed to textile dust, compared to only 15 of the women without rheumatoid arthritis. Women exposed to textile dust had triple the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, compared to those women who were not.
Additionally, textile dust exposure was associated with double the risk of testing positive for ACPA. Two-thirds of rheumatoid arthritis women tested positive for ACPA and just below 40 percent of the women were carriers of a genetic risk factor that increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s important to note that the study was observational, and exposure to different textile dusts can result in different outcomes, as different textiles have their own unique chemical makeup.
The authors wrote, “The association between textile dust and risk of rheumatoid arthritis might involve several potential disease mechanisms, since the differing physiochemical properties of airborne dust affect where it deposits in the respiratory tract.”
“From a public health perspective, our results imply that efforts should be considered to reduce the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis by reducing occupational exposure to textile dust,” the authors concluded.
Rheumatoid arthritis: other environmental risk factors
Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of arthritis in which the body’s immune system creates antibodies and mistakenly attacks the joints, causing stiffness and pain. Like many autoimmune diseases, the exact cause is unknown, but there are many risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing the disease.
Environmental factors that contribute to an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Silica dust exposure
- Mineral oils and other immune system activators
- Infections, either viral or bacterial
Some environmental risk factors – like smoking, for example – lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis only if a person is ACPA-positive. By avoiding or minimizing your exposure to these factors, you can lower your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.