RA Linked to Increased Risk of COPD

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic inflammatory condition, is characterized by pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints. Over the years studies have examined the link between inflammation and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). New research coming out of the University of British Columbia (BC) suggests that there is an association between COPD and inflammation.

Inflammation is a hallmark of RA. It moves around, interferes with the function of different parts of the body. People with RA are at risk for a number of other ailments including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and a variety of lung diseases.2 Other existing medical conditions or side effects of medications can also be risk factors for developing lung disease.

COPD Made Up of Multiple Conditions

COPD is a progressive lung condition that makes it difficult to breathe. COPD is not just one specific condition; it is a group of diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and some types of asthma. It causes symptoms including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest.

50,000 cases reviewed

In the journal Arthritis Care & Research, Dr. Diane Lacaille reported that people with rheumatoid arthritis may be more likely to develop COPD, lung diseases that damage airways and breathing problems. Study findings suggest steps can be taken to protect the respiratory health of people with chronic inflammatory conditions including RA.

The study evaluated Canadian medical records in the province of British Columbia. It looked at data on nearly 25,000 people in BC who had RA during the 10-year period from 1996-2006. Researchers then compared a randomly selected population matched for age and gender, called the control population, of just over 25,000. The records review revealed that people with RA were at a 47% higher risk for being admitted to the hospital with COPD. After adjusting for those who smoke, the results remained significant.1

What can I do to protect myself?

Having RA, an autoimmune condition, predisposes you to develop other medical complications. Inflammation, the body’s immune system response, attacks normal joint tissue and other organ and tissue linings. Combined with the side effects from medications used to modify and control the disease, people with RA may experience multiple health problems. Taking care of yourself and not letting symptoms or conditions go untreated is one way you can help limit the impact on your RA.

Some doctors who treat people with RA may not be aware that their patients are at a higher risk for developing lung conditions.1 Education for primary care physicians and general hospital personnel can help identify those at risk and will likely improve patient care outcomes. Genetic and environmental factors also can play a role. Most importantly, identifying symptoms and reporting them to your medical team quickly can help identify early signs of lung conditions. This allows you to seek timely treatment before there is significant irreversible damage due to COPD.


Smoking is associated with a wide variety of medical conditions. You know it’s not good for you. If you have RA and you smoke, you increase the risk of developing multiple lung conditions, including COPD.


RA and COPD are both persistent conditions. They are slow to develop and can be debilitating. Recognizing symptoms early can lead to improved health, fewer hospitalizations and reduction in medical costs. Early diagnosis and effective treatment can help improve functional quality of life and limit damage from RA and COPD.

To learn more about COPD, visit our community at https://copd.net/.

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