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Cigarette smoking and the risk of systemic lupus erythematosus, overall and by anti-double stranded DNA antibody subtype, in the Nurses’ Health Study cohorts


Objectives Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a heterogeneous autoimmune disease, subtyped according to clinical manifestations and autoantibodies. Evidence concerning cigarette smoking and SLE risk has been conflicting. We investigated smoking and SLE risk, overall and by anti-double stranded DNA (dsDNA) presence, in two prospective cohort studies.

Methods The Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) enrolled 121 701 US female nurses in 1976; Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) enrolled 116 430 in 1989. Lifestyle, environmental and medical data were collected through biennial questionnaires. Incident SLE was confirmed by medical record review. Cox regression models estimated HRs of SLE, overall and by dsDNA subtype, in association with time-varying smoking status and cumulative smoking pack-years through the 2-year cycle prior to diagnosis, controlling for potential confounders.

Results Among 286 SLE cases identified (159 in NHS (1978–2012) and 127 in NHSII (1991–2013)), mean age was 49.2 (10.3) years and 42% were dsDNA+ at SLE diagnosis. At baseline, 45% of women had ever smoked, 51% of whom currently smoked. Compared with never smokers, current smokers had increased dsDNA+ SLE risk (HR 1.86 (1.14–3.04)), whereas past smokers did not (HR 1.31 (0.85–2.00)). Women who smoked >10 pack-years (vs never) had an elevated dsDNA+ SLE risk (HR 1.60(95% CI 1.04 to 2.45)) compared with never smokers. No associations were observed between smoking status or pack-years and overall SLE or dsDNA− SLE.

Conclusion Strong and specific associations of current smoking and >10 pack-years of smoking with dsDNA+ SLE were observed. This novel finding suggests smoking is involved in dsDNA+ SLE pathogenesis.

  • systemic lupus erythematosus
  • smoking
  • health services research

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