A new study found that the odds of developing RA is 60% higher in those exposed to antibiotics than those who are not.
Researchers from Keele University and the Quadram Institute in the UK analyzed data from primary care medical records and found that the odds of developing rheumatoid arthritis is 60% higher in those exposed to antibiotics than in those not exposed. The researchers also found that the odds increased with the number of antibiotics treatments, and how recently they were taken.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects roughly 300,000 Canadians, and this study suggests it affects 26 in 100,000 people who have taken antibiotics. RA is likely to be caused by a complex mix of genetics and different environmental factors, so this study isn’t reason to stop taking antibiotics when they are needed. But it does open up a new door of exploration to finding the triggers, which could be vital in the search for ways of preventing RA.
Although this study was quite large, it doesn’t say for sure whether it was the antibiotics that increased the risk, or if it was the infection itself.
Researchers found that the type of infection was also important. Upper respiratory tract infections treated with antibiotics were more closely associated with RA cases, but this association wasn’t seen in untreated cases.
The analysis of the type of antibiotic showed that all classes increased the risk of developing RA, so this suggests the risk could be resulting from the antibiotics. This has also been seen in other recent studies associating antibiotic usage with an increased risk of other autoimmune conditions, including type 1 diabetes and autoimmune liver disease.
Professor Christian Mallen, head of school for primary, community and social care at Keele University, said, “This exciting work offers another glimpse into the complexity of understanding rheumatoid arthritis, opening the door for future work in this area. New collaborations, such as the one between the Quadram Institute and Keele University, allow exciting new interdisciplinary research that is needed to progress understanding in this field.”
Note: The study was published in BMC Medicine and the researchers were supported by the National Institute for Health Research, the Welcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
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Author: Charmaine Millaire was the editor for Optimyz magazine and a regular contributor. She is a graduate of King’s School of Journalism in Canada. We republish some of her articles here on Silver.