Social stressors and risk of rheumatoid arthritis and their relationship to known modifiable risk factors: results from the Swedish EIRA study

Objectives: To investigate whether low social support or low decision latitude at work correlate with risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and whether and how those factors are associated with known modifiable risk factors for RA.

Method: The Swedish population-based EIRA study included, from 1996 to 2015, 3724 incident RA cases and 5935 controls, matched for age, gender, and residential area. Participants filled in detailed questionnaires at diagnosis. Using logistic regression, we investigated whether low social support and low decision latitude at work were associated with RA risk, and whether and how these exposures are associated with known modifiable risk factors for RA.

Results: Low decision latitude at work was associated with RA risk in unadjusted analyses [odd ratio (OR) = 1.52, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.20-1.94], but this association was weakened after adjustment for known RA risk factors (adjusted OR = 1.24, 95% CI = 0.93-1.63). Low social support was not associated with RA risk (unadjusted OR = 1.05, 95% CI = 0.95-1.15). Cases reporting low decision latitude were more often smokers (OR = 2.05, 95% CI = 1.33-3.16), without university degrees (OR = 8.23, 95% CI = 5.13-13.22), and more often female (OR = 2.52, 95% CI = 1.66-3.81), with a similar pattern among controls. Cases reporting low social support were more often men (OR = 1.60, 95% CI = 1.40-1.83), smokers (OR = 1.46, 95% CI = 1.26-1.70), obese (OR = 1.29, 95% CI = 1.09-1.54), physically inactive (OR = 2.78, 95% CI = 1.98-3.90), and without university degrees (OR = 2.04, 95% CI = 1.77-2.36), with a similar pattern among controls.

Conclusion: Low decision latitude coexisted with several known environmental/social risk factors for RA, together defining groups of individuals at increased risk of RA. These risk factors should be viewed in context when testing actions to diminish RA risk in prospective studies.