Rheumatoid arthritis raises risk for COPD, study finds

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published October 19, 2017

Key Takeaways

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have a greater risk for developing of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a new study in Arthritis Care & Research.

The increased risk is likely due to chronic inflammation, study investigators indicated.

Previous studies have suggested a link between inflammation and COPD—a link that prompted this study’s investigators to question whether chronic inflammatory conditions such as RA predispose patients to COPD.

To find out, researchers led by Diane Lacaille, MD, FRCPC, MHSc, professor of rheumatology at the University of British Columbia and a senior research scientist at the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada, in Vancouver, BC, reviewed administrative health data on 24,625 individuals diagnosed with RA between 1996 and 2006 as well as 25,396 matched control subjects.

After adjusting for potential confounding factors, the researchers determined that patients with RA had a 47% greater risk of hospitalization for COPD than control subjects. The increased risk remained significant after modelling for smoking and with varying COPD definitions.

“These findings are novel because it has only recently been recognized that inflammation plays a role in the development of COPD, and clinicians treating people with rheumatoid arthritis are not aware that their patients are at increased risk of developing COPD,” Dr. Lacaille said. “Our results emphasize the need to control inflammation, and in fact to aim for complete eradication of inflammation [ie, remission] through effective treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.”

She recommended that patients with rheumatoid arthritis and their clinicians should keep a close watch for early symptoms of COPD. “That way, appropriate tests can be administered to diagnose COPD early, at the onset of symptoms, so that effective treatments for COPD can be initiated before irreversible damage to the lungs occurs,” Dr. Lacaille said.

She added that clinicians also need to attend to COPD risk factors, such as smoking, in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

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