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Dr. Rand Sommer, St. Luke's Hospital

Study: Obesity may be a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis

Obesity in the United States is a growing problem. According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults are obese. As our waistlines continue to expand, so do the problems associated with weight gain such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, joint issues, susceptibility to some forms of cancer and a host of other harmful conditions.

A new study by the Mayo Clinic may have added another concern for physicians and their female patients?that there may be an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) as a result of being overweight. The growing population of obese Americans should be aware of this threat and the ones mentioned previously, as many of these issues can be prevented by watching what we eat and exercising properly.

RA is a chronic disease that causes inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues, and it affects approximately 1.3 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Almost three times as many women are affected by the disease than men. Women commonly begin showing symptoms of the disease between the ages of 30 and 60.

There is no known cause of RA, but many experts believe it could be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Other suspected causes include bacteria or viruses, female hormones and the body's reaction to stressful events or trauma. Smoking is also thought to contribute to the likelihood of developing the disease.

This latest study now adds obesity as a possible risk factor for RA. Researchers found that the risk of developing RA was about 20 percent more likely for women who were overweight. Researchers speculate that the link between RA and obesity is the result of chemicals in fat cells that cause inflammation.

Controlling one's weight can take a big commitment and can be affected by many issues. To begin a weight loss program, women should consult with their physicians first, start setting realistic goals, follow low-calorie diets and get 30 minutes of exercise (like biking or swimming) most days of the week.

Dr. Rand Sommer specializes in rheumatology and internal medicine at St. Luke's Hospital. For more information, call 314-205-6060.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 12, 2012.

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