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The Link between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Obesity in Women

Updated on April 27, 2016

Obese women may be at a greater risk for the development of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) according to various studies completed in recent years. One study which followed 813 women from 1980 to 2007 showed 9.2 percent risk per 100,000 obese women. Obesity was linked to a 52 percent increase in RA.

The belief for the link between the two conditions is mainly due to the increased inflammatory response of adipose tissue within obese women.

Although it is unclear how, menopause is also believed to have an increased affect on the reason why more women than men suffer from RA, potentially due to changes in estrogen levels.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

RA is described as an inflammatory, auto-immune disease of the joints which is characterized by swelling, pain and stiffness in the joints. It is the most common type of inflammation arthritis and is a condition that affects more than 1.3 million Americans of which more than half are women therefore making it more common in women than men. In RA, tissues and joints are attacked by the immune system. Although it most often appears between the ages of 25 and 50, it can occur at any age.

RA tends to affect:

  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Knees
  • Ankles
  • Hips
  • Shoulders

It is a symmetrical disease and what that means is....typically, when one shoulder is inflamed, so is the other. When one hand is affected, so is the other. Morning stiffness is a common symptom that can be so intense, it makes it very difficult for a person to get dressed.

Complications that may result from RA include:

  • Heart Problems
  • Lung Disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The sooner RA is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin to reduce symptoms and risks commonly seen with this condition.

Treatment generally entails the use of but not limited tot he following:

  • Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen
  • Oral Steroids
  • Local Steroid Injections
  • Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs

Body Mass Index

BMI or Body Mass Index is a method used to evaluate and/or measure whether or not someone is underweight, overweight or obese.

  • Underweight = BMI less than 18.5
  • Acceptable = BMI 18.5- 24.9
  • Overweight = BMI 25-29.9
  • Obese = BMI above 30


Studies show there are a variety of causes that lead to obesity in an individual. Some research has shown that obesity is simply the result of taking in more calories than is burned, inactive lifestyles and the storage of excess body fat. Other research has shown that it is linked to genetics and physiology.

Obese women are at an increased risk for:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Gall Bladder Disease
  • Stroke
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Cancer (Endometrial, Cervical, Breast and Ovarian)
  • Depression
  • ,,,and now Rheumatoid Arthritis

Obesity management and treatment is multi-faceted and involves a combination but is not limited to some of the following:

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Medication
  • Behavioral Therapy
  • Ongoing monitoring of BMI

The addition of RA as a potential complication of obesity is only more evidence that one should strive to manage their weight more effectively.

© 2014 Mahogany Speaks


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    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 3 years ago

      Another possible reason for the link between RA and obesity is that RA is an autoimmune condition. Nearly all people with autoimmune diseases have a leaky gut and hence food (especially gluten) sensitivity. And Gluten sensitivity sometimes leads to obesity.

      Normally, I don't put a link in comments. But the article that I wrote about why everyone with any kind of autoimmune condition should avoid gluten is important for people with autoimmunity to know about. So here it is: