Findings of a new study involving more than 25,000 patients with rheumatoid arthritis have revealed that obesity may accelerate and worsen the crippling symptoms of the condition.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that develops when immune cells that normally fight harmful germs attack the cartilage. As a result, the joints swell, and the surrounding ligaments, bones, and muscles gradually erode. The condition worsens over time and often leads to disability.

Researchers now reveal one factor that may hasten disability in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Effect Of Weight On Rheumatoid Arthritis

In a study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research on April 30, Joshua Baker from the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues, looked at the data of patients with rheumatoid arthritis using the Veterans Affairs RA registry and National Data Bank of the Rheumatic Diseases to examine the effects of weight on their condition.

Baker and colleagues found that severe obesity was linked with more progression of disability. They also found that the patients who lost weight were more likely to become more disabled quickly, particularly those who were already thin.

The researchers think that the latter association is due to the fact that people tend to lose weight because of poor health or frailty as they get older and not because of conscious efforts to get in shape by exercising and eating right.

"Severe obesity is associated with more rapid progression of disability in RA. Weight loss is also associated with worsening disability, possibly by identifying individuals with chronic illness and the development of age‐related or disease‐related frailty," Baker said.

The findings are particularly relevant given the rising number of obesity cases. Figures from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than one-third of adults in the United States are obese.

Researchers said that the findings should also help doctors recognize signs of frailty among their patients who may benefit from physical therapy and strength training.

"Patients with rheumatoid arthritis and obesity would benefit from intentional weight loss through a comprehensive management strategy; however, when we see that someone is losing weight without trying, it's probably a poor prognostic sign, especially if they are already thin," said Baker.

1.3 Million Americans With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Data from the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network (RASN) show that the chronic disease affects more than 1.3 million people in the United States. Risk factors linked to the onset of the condition include genetics, environmental risk factors, hormones, and lifestyle risk factors.

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