RA and COPD

A recent study, funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, found that men with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are 47 percent more likely than those in the general population to be hospitalized with the disease, if they also have rheumatoid disease (arthritis). For women with both diseases, the risk of hospitalization is an alarming 61 percent higher.

How is this possible

The culprit? The body-wide inflammation that RD, an autoimmune disease, causes as it forces the body’s immune system to attack its own synovial tissues, including the linings of the joints, heart and lungs, vascular system, and other organs and soft tissues.

Inflammation is linked to COPD, a group of lung diseases that includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and sometimes, asthma. Many of the inflammation markers found in RD are elevated in this group of lung diseases, as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “in the U.S., tobacco smoke is the key factor in the development of COPD.” Other factors may include airborne pollutants in the home or workplace, genetics, or in some cases, respiratory infections. COPD causes shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing, which can severely limit activity at home and at work. It mostly affects people ages 65 years old and older.


The cohort study examined “the incidence of COPD in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Ultimately, 24,625 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 25,396 controls were included in the analysis,” according to an article about the study published on the Rheumatology Network webpage.

The study found that smoking does not appear to be responsible for the increase in hospitalization risk.

The Rheumatology Network article states that “[p]hysicians should strive to control inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis effectively, not only to prevent joint damage and alleviate symptoms but also to lessen potential comorbidities, such as COPD.” In addition, “[they] should emphasize lifestyle modifications, such as smoking cessation, when they counsel patients with rheumatoid arthritis because of their impact on cardiovascular and pulmonary health.”

I smoked for many years, though I quit a long time ago. I know that COPD might be in my future. Along with my own adult smoking habit, I lived in a home filled with heavy second-hand smoke throughout my childhood. Either or both could have been a factor, along with other environmental and genetic factors, in why I developed rheumatoid disease as a young adult.

Talking to your doctor about smoking

There’s a serious life lesson for young rheumatoid disease patients, here: If you smoke, talk to your doctor for help with quitting for good. If you’re an older ex-smoker, like me, take good care of your heart and lung health, and make sure your rheumatologist is paying attention to both as they relate to your rheumatoid disease. COPD is, like RD, treatable but incurable. It’s life-altering and, in the end, COPD is deadly.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
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