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Work is a Factor in Developing Rheumatoid Arthritis

New Finnish research has uncovered links between rheumatoid arthritis and work occupation. Employees in the mining, transportation, agriculture, forestry and gardening industries turned out to be at the highest risk of succumbing to the illness.

Linja-autonkuljettaja kojelauta edessään
Image: Juha Silander

Every year, about 1,700 adults in Finland develop rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting joints. Sufferers of the illness at working age number 35,000—and half of them have been forced to quit working.

Work conditions in the high-risk industries have common traits. People there work in humid, cold or dusty environments.

Inhabitants of the Kainuu and South Savo provinces develop rheumatoid arthritis most frequently. Figures for the Karelia province are also high. Women suffer from the ailment more often than men—twice as often in north-east and north-west Finland.

“Some of the regional variation can be explained by economic structures,” says senior researcher Riitta-Sisko Koskela from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Agriculture and forestry are an important industry in those regions. Animal husbandry has the most links with developing rheumatic arthritis, while grain growing seems to have a smaller impact.

”Rheumatic arthritis is an illness caused by many factors,” Koskela notes. ”I hope that occupational health care puts these research findings to good use.”

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the University of Helsinki and the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (KELA) carried out the research. The research examined people between the ages of 15-64 who had been granted the special right for compensation from Kela for rheumatoid arthritis medicine in 1971-2000.

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