What’s New In RA Research? A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex disease, and researchers are still analyzing what causes it, how it affects those who have the condition, how to better prevent it and ultimately how to treat it more effectively.  Here is some of the latest research.


    Severe RA is associated with depression

    People with RA are susceptible to depression, which is important to treat not only for a patient’s mental health, but also because it can affect their treatment for RA. New research from the University of Manchester in the U.K. has found that patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis, who are waiting to go on a biologic, should be screened for depression by their doctors. They found that depression can affect how a person scores on the current measure for disease activity, even after starting a biologic.

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    The study, published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research, looked at 322 participants with severe RA who were waiting to go on biologic therapy. Researchers wanted to analyze the psychological factors that affect each part of the current measure of disease, called the DAS28. This score looks at the number of tender and swollen joints and the level of inflammation in the body, in addition to self-reported measures of how the patient feels.


    Results showed that subjective measures of response were influenced by psychological factors, such as mood and beliefs about their illness and the therapies they used. Therefore, doctors say it’s important to treat depression, as it can affect the DAS28 score, making it lower than it should be with a biologic. The affects of depression can cause the doctor to assume the biologic drug is ineffective, rather than treating the patient’s mental health first.


    New genetic markers found for RA

    Researchers are always looking for new ways to treat RA, and one path is to look at the human genome. An international collaboration of researchers has discovered 42 new genetic markers associated with RA, which could lead to new and better treatments. For the study, published in the journal Nature, researchers looked at more than 10 million genetic markers in 100,000 people, of which 29,880 had RA.


    After analyzing the data, researchers found DNA variations at 42 regions of the genome that are associated with RA. They also found similarities between RA and some blood cancers, which already have existing, effective therapies. These could offer some new drug possibilities for the treatment of RA.


    Postmenopausal women with RA have higher mortality rates

    It is known that RA can increase the risk for other health issues, such as heart disease. But new research has found that mortality rates are twice as high in postmenopausal women with RA and certain antibodies, called anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies, according to a study published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.


    For the study, researchers looked at 10,000 women with RA, and measured anti-CCP antibodies, antinuclear antibodies (ANA) and rheumatoid factor. Participants had a mean age of 64 and researchers followed them for 10 years. Results showed that anti-CCP antibodies were prevalent in 8.1 percent of the women, and 58 percent of these women reported using a DMARD.  Over the course of the study, 13 percent of the women died, with cardiovascular disease and cancer being the main causes of death.


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    Researchers found that women with positive anti-CCP had a significantly higher mortality rate, which was independent of DMARD use or risk factors such as obesity and smoking.


    Breastfeeding could lower risk of RA

    As researchers learn more about RA, they have discovered more ways to cut the risk of developing it. New research has found that breastfeeding, especially for a longer duration, could reduce the risk for RA by half.


    The study, published in the journal Rheumatology, looked at over 7,000 older Chinese women aged 50 years or older. They filled out questionnaires to determine sociodemographic history, disease and lifestyle history, obstetric history, and history of use of oral contraceptives. They were also examined by a trained nurse to check joints for tenderness associated with RA.


    Among the women who had given birth to at least one child, those who had breastfed  were half as likely to have RA. Researchers also discovered a statistically significant trend of decreasing risk of RA with increasing duration of breastfeeding. In addition, they found no relationship between the use of oral contraceptives and RA.


    Researchers say they need further research to understand the hormonal mechanisms at play in the onset of RA.



    Weber, B. (2013, December 24). "Postmenopausal women: higher mortality linked to RA, antibodies." Medical News Today. Retrieved from



    Ellis, M. (2013, December 27). "Over 40 new genetic markers found for rheumatoid arthritis." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270629.php


    Weber, B. (2013, December 24). "Postmenopausal women: higher mortality linked to RA, antibodies." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270535.php


    Oxford University Press. (2014, January 7). "Breastfeeding associated with lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis, according to new study." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/270832.php


Published On: January 28, 2014