Oral Contraceptives Tied to Lower Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk

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Taking oral contraceptives may reduce the risk for rheumatoid arthritis, a new study has found.

The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unclear, but since it is about three times more common in women than in men, some have suggested hormonal factors might be involved.

Swedish researchers studied 2,641 women with the disease and 4,251 healthy controls. They did blood tests and collected health and behavioral data, including information about their reproductive history, breast-feeding and use of contraception. The study, in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, followed them for eight years.

Women in the study had used oral contraceptives for an average of seven years. Over all, after adjusting for age, alcohol consumption, smoking and other factors, current users were 15 percent less likely, and past users 13 percent less likely, than those who had never used oral contraceptives to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Users with positive blood tests for the antibody called ACPA, a predictor of rheumatoid arthritis, reduced their risk by 16 percent.

Although some smaller studies have found a link between women who had breast-fed their babies and a lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis, this study found none.

“If you’re already using oral contraception, you don’t need to stop if you have a family history of R.A. or are diagnosed with the disease,” said the lead author, Cecilia Orellana, a postdoctoral fellow at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. “But we are not recommending you start them as a preventive. We can’t overlook the other potential side effects of the drugs on other conditions.”