Haywire: Autoimmune Disorders in Women
Can Smoking Trigger an Autoimmune Disease?
What causes autoimmune diseases remains a mystery, but researchers may have found a big piece of the puzzle: Studies show that smoking not only worsens autoimmune disease symptoms, but it also may play a role in causing them.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Experts still don't know exactly why autoimmune diseases develop. Though some risk factors exist, it's hard to predict who will get autoimmune diseases. We don't know how to prevent them and, right now, they can't be cured.
However, researchers are studying autoimmune diseases to unravel more of the mystery behind them. One link that’s been uncovered? Smoking. A number of studies have shown that people who smoke cigarettes are more likely to develop an autoimmune disease, particularly rheumatoid arthritis.
In fact, cigarette smoking seems to be one of the largest environmental risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis. Research has shown that smoking increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis in people who have certain type of antibodies called anticitrulline antibodies. Citrulline is an amino acid that can affect proteins in the body. It's thought that these proteins, modified with citrulline, could be linked to the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking has also been linked to an increased risk of systemic lupus erythematosus.
If you're at an increased autoimmune disease risk, smoking further increases that risk. If you already have an autoimmune disease, it can worsen your autoimmune disease symptoms and make managing your condition more difficult.
Smoking also weakens the immune system so that it's less able to defend the body against illness. At the same time, smoking seems to increase inflammation in the body, a major problem in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
Experts don't yet fully understand exactly how, why, and in what way smoking increases autoimmune disease risk. Much more detailed research needs to be done. But that doesn’t mean you need to wait to quit.
Your Nine-Step Stop-Smoking Plan
While research seems to indicate that smoking can be linked to an autoimmune disease, other useful information has been uncovered. For example, the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis decreases if you quit smoking, although it generally takes several years for the risk to go down after you stop.
No one says it will be easy, but quitting smoking can preserve your health, your quality of life, and indeed yourlife. You know why you should do it. Here are some tips to help you quit for good:
- Decide that you want to quit and make a firm commitment — don't let yourself out of it.
- Create a plan to help you quit, including the date that you will stop smoking and strategies to help you do it.
- Always keep in mind the reason why you're quitting: To get healthy.
- Toss out your smokes and all associated paraphernalia, including lighters and ashtrays.
- Get quit-smoking aids, such as healthy snacks, sugar-free gum and candy, nicotine patches, and nicotine gum.
- Enlist the help of friends and family to keep you busy and smoke-free.
- Try exercising or picking up a new hobby to occupy you.
- Don't drink alcohol, but do drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic beverages.
- Avoid activities that you associate with smoking; for example, don't watch TV if you like to light up when you do.
Related: Up Your Dose of Vitamin D, Decrease Your Autoimmune Disease Risk?
You can probably think of a million excuses why you can't quit, but adding autoimmune disease risk to the list of complications associated with smoking is just one more reason why you should.
Video: Autoimmune disease | smoking makes arthritis and autoimmune disease worse
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