Positive rheumatoid factor (RF) reactions commonly precede the onset of clinically manifest rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Thus if items associated with RF reactions were traced at the community level this might provide clues to the cause of RA. The relations between smoking and lung functions and the occurrence of RA and RFs in a population sample representative of the adult Finnish population were studied. Rheumatoid factor testing was performed for 7124 subjects (89% of the sample) by the sensitised sheep cell agglutination test. Forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) were measured with spirometry. 'False positive' RF reactions occurred twice as often in current smokers and ex-smokers than in those who had never smoked. The prevalence of high titres was fourfold greater among current smokers than among those who had never smoked. These associations were statistically significant and independent of age, FVC, and FEV1 in both sexes. The women with airflow limitation (FEV1/FVC less than 70%) had a significantly increased occurrence of RFs which was independent of their smoking history, but no such relationship was found in men. The results suggest an impact of smoking on RF production; a follow up study may show whether the raised RF titers in smokers will be reflected as an increased incidence of RA.
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