Is there a link between high birth weight and Rheumatoid arthritis?

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Is there a link between high birth weight and Rheumatoid arthritis?

Although the exact cause of Rheumatoid arthritis is still not known, it is believed to be caused by an interaction between genetic and environmental factors. These result in an autoimmune reaction (i.e. body’s immune system fails to recognize tissues as its own, considering them as foreign and attacks them) causing inflammation and eventually destruction and deformity of the joints.

A recent study has suggested that there may be a relation between high birth weight and development of Rheumatoid arthritis in later life. This study was done on a group of 77 adults (born between 1940-1960 in Malmo, Sweden) suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Their birth records were compared to those of 308 healthy adults living in the same area. During the study researchers looked into various factors during the perinatal period (i.e. shortly before and after birth) which may have a link to rheumatoid arthritis. These included age of the mother, birth weight of the baby, time of commencement of breast-feeding and duration of stay in the hospital after birth.

The following observations were made during the study:

  • Babies who weighed more than 4000 gms (i.e. around 9 pounds) at birth were more than 3 times at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in adult life as compared to those with average weight.
  • Breast-fed babies were less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis as compared to those who were on infrequent breast-feeding.
  • No other factor during the perinatal period was found to be associated with the development of rheumatoid arthritis in adult life.

Hence, this study proves that certain perinatal factors (such as more than average birth weight, lack of breast feeding) do play a role in the development of Rheumatoid arthritis. But still more studies will be required to get a clear picture of the role of these perinatal factors in the development and cause of Rheumatoid arthritis.

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