Study focuses on connection between smoking, rheumatoid arthritis

Study seeks input of smokers on strategies to quit
Study focuses on connection between smoking, rheumatoid arthritis

A yearlong study being conducted by UW Health is looking at strategies to help patients with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis quit smoking.

“Rheumatoid arthritis is 36 times more likely in patients who are former or current smokers, and lupus is 50 percent more likely in patients who are current smokers,” said Dr. Christie Bartels, a rheumatologist and health service researcher with UW Health.

Smoking cigarettes is linked to lupus and rheumatoid arthritis because of the effect it has on the immune system.

“Autoimmunity is greater in people who smoke, and when we think about it, there are 7,000 different chemicals in cigarette smoke, and it makes sense that might irritate your immune system,” Bartels said.

To help patients with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis stop smoking, the UW study has focused on strategies to help them quit. But instead of asking only health care providers for thoughts, they established a focus group of smokers and asked for their opinions.

“The goal of the study is really to invite people to better health and not necessarily to shame people for smoking behavior, which I think has been the perception for years,” Bartels said.

One of the participants in the study is Elaine Tarnutzer, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1991. A smoker for 40 years, she has tried on multiple occasions to quit without much success.

She believes the approach the study is taking to smoking cessation has merit.

“If it is done in a pleasant, more caring way, I think it is more acceptable than, stop smoking,” said Tarnutzer.

The study has developed a smoking intervention program that can be taught to health care providers in approximately 30 minutes.