Infections may reduce RA riskScientists and researchers are forever on the lookout for newer therapies and are developing better drugs for patients with chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Now, research published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases says that recent gut and urinary tract infections may reduce your chances of developing rheumatoid arthritis. This is extremely exciting news and has great potential to develop targeted therapy for rheumatoid arthritis in the future. You may be curious to know if this is even possible! And if so, then how?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto immune disorder in which one’s own immune system attacks the joints and other organs. Painful joints, swelling, disability and deformities over time are common features of rheumatoid arthritis. Women are affected more than men by rheumatoid arthritis. Millions of people worldwide suffer from this painful disease.

This study was conducted by Saedis Saevarsdottir and his team at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Sweden. For the study, around 6500 people from south and central Sweden were recruited including mostly women (as they have a predilection for the condition). Between 1996 and 2009, nearly 2831 people who were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis were selected for the study. Also, another 3570 healthy people of matching age, sex and area were enrolled as controls for the study. The team studied the role of different infections and development of rheumatoid arthritis.

These 6000 people (70% of whom were women) were asked about their medical history over the past 2 years. Specifically, they were asked whether they had any urinary, gut, genital infections, prostatitis, or if they had taken an antibiotic course for sinusitis or tonsillitis or pneumonia. What researchers found out was that if a person had suffered from a gut, urinary or genital infection in past 2 years, then the chances of them suffering from rheumatoid arthritis was considerably less. If all 3 types of infections had occurred, the chances decreased by a whopping 50%!

A similar study by Keney KM, states “Connections are now been made between microbiota dysbiosis and a variety of different diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis……etc.”

The first point of observation is that these infections may alter the type of bacteria resident in the gut normally, even in healthy people. It is known that a particular type of protein was found in the blood of people associated with the subsequent development of rheumatoid arthritis. Since this is only an observational study, a cause and effect relationship has not yet been established. This might be because the linings of the gut are exposed to a high load of bacterial antigens, which may either initiate or modify inflammation, and thus, could possibly influence the risk of developing the disease, explain the researchers. Also, some of the antibiotics used to treat these infections have proved effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Contributed by Dr. Rachita Narsaria, MD


  1. Saevarsdottir S, Alfredsson L, et al. Recent infections are associated with decreased risk of rheumatoid arthritis: a population-based case-control study. Ann Rheum Dis. doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2014-206493
  2. Effects of antibiotics on human microbiota and subsequent disease, by Keney KM, Yurist-doutsch, Arrieta MC, Finlay BB. Arthritis foundation.