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Out in the cold: Working in low temperatures raises risk of rheumatoid arthritis, researchers say

Photo: Thanmano/iStockphoto

Stockholm – Working in the cold increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, according to researchers at the Karolinska Institute.

Using data from the Swedish population-based Epidemiological Investigation of Rheumatoid Arthritis study from 1996 to 2014, researchers reviewed questionnaire answers from 3,659 RA patients and 5,925 control subjects. All participants were asked whether they worked in cold environments, indoors or out, and for how long per week.

Participants who had worked in an outdoor cold environment showed “an odds ratio of 1.5 for developing RA compared with those who had never done so,” researchers said in a Sept. 7 press release. For participants who worked in indoor cold environments, the odds ratio was 1.7.

Further, increased exposure to cold resulted in a greater risk of an RA diagnosis – workers with 20 years or more of exposure (2.0) and 20 hours or more per week of exposure (1.8) to a cold work environment had a higher risk than those with less than 10 years (1.3) and 10 hours per week (1.0), respectively. That increased risk was true only for cold indoor work.

The same study showed a higher risk for workers who performed repetitive hand and finger movements (1.4), but not for those whose tasks involved bending and turning and carrying more than 22 pounds.

The study was published online Aug. 16 in RMD Open: Rheumatic & Musculoskeletal Diseases.

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