Dieting Study: Obesity May Increase Arthritis Cause Joint Pain

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic studied hundreds of patients and found a history of obesity puts women at significant risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

The Connection: Obesity and Arthritis

After examining more than 800 medical records, researchers concluded rheumatoid arthritis cases rose by 9.2 per 100,000 women from 1985-2007. Obesity accounted for 52 percent of the increase. At this point, researchers aren’t sure why or how obesity causes joint pain.

“We know that fat tissues and cells produce substances that are active in inflammation and immunity. We know too that obesity is related to many other health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, and now perhaps to autoimmunity,” Dr. Matteson says. “It adds another reason to reduce and prevent obesity in the general population.”

How arthritis attacks the body

In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks tissues, inflaming joints and sometimes also affecting other organs and causing fever and fatigue. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to initially impact the hands and feet and then spread to the knees, ankles, hips and shoulders. It is more common in women than in men. Complications can include heart problems, lung disease, osteoporosis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Arthritis can impact a person’s quality of life.

According to PubMed Health, rheumatoid arthritis usually requires lifelong treatment, including medications, physical therapy, exercise, education, and possibly surgery. Early, aggressive treatment for RA can delay joint destruction. Occasionally, surgery is needed to correct severely damaged joints. Range-of-motion exercises and exercise programs prescribed by a physical therapist can delay the loss of joint function and help keep muscles strong. Sometimes therapists will use special machines to apply deep heat or electrical stimulation to reduce pain and improve joint movement.

Obesity statistics

Obesity is a disease that affects 34 percent of adults age 20 and over in the United States, which amounts to more than 72 million people. About 32.2 percent of American men and about 35.5 percent of American women are obese.