Some antibiotic use may increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis AntibioticsCC: Mark Fletcher-Brown at Unsplash

As a condition that affects more than 1.28-million people throughout the United States, rheumatoid arthritis is agonizing. Recent research from Keele University in the United Kingdom suggests that using antibiotics increases your risk of developing the disease. So how strong is the evidence? And can we be sure antibiotic usage is the clear link?

What does the study tell us?

The study in question examined the medical records of tens-of-thousands of people with RA. On examining the records, researchers found that patients were 60-percent more likely to develop the condition if they used antibiotics.

The most notable increase in risk appeared to come from those who had taken antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections. All classes of antibiotics appeared to have the same effect. It’s difficult to argue that URTIs are the issue, as no similar association was found in untreated cases.

Those who have reported on the study have been fast to highlight how similar research has yielded similar results. Other studies link antibiotic usage to type 1 diabetes and autoimmune liver disease. As a result, it’s possible to argue that the association is between antibiotics and autoimmune conditions.

If there is a link between antibiotic use and autoimmune conditions, it’s important to recognize that there’s likely a genetic component too. As such, you shouldn’t rush to halt your antibiotics next time a doctor prescribes them to you.

Should antibiotic use be altered in light of this?

Antibiotics will always have their place in the medical world. However, in many Western developed nations, they’re overused for simple upper respiratory tract infections that may be viral rather than bacterial. The study doesn’t reveal anything specific about how heavy a patient’s antibiotic use needed to be for them to increase their risk of rheumatoid arthritis. But it could still be the case that heavy use is riskier than light use.

If there’s clear evidence for a bacterial URTI, though, antibiotics are the best course of action. It’s never wise to ignore a bacterial lung infection. Your condition could develop into pneumonia, leading to more serious health events.

What else increases your risk of RA?

You’re more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis if a first-degree relative has the condition. Some researchers believe that viruses trigger RA, although they’re not absolutely certain. As with other autoimmune diseases, there’s also an increased risk if a close relative has another autoimmune condition. Finally, obesity and spending a lot of time around toxic chemicals also worsen your risk profile.

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About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.