Is Male Rheumatoid Arthritis an Occupational Disease? A Review

Dan Murphy1, 2, 3, *, David Hutchinson1, 2
1 Rheumatology Department, Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro, Cornwall TR1 3LH, UK
2 University of Exeter Medical School, Cornwall Campus, Knowledge Spa, Truro, Cornwall, TR1 3HD, UK
3 St. Austell Healthcare Group, Wheal Northey Surgery, St Austell, Cornwall, PL25 3EF, UK

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Creative Commons License
© 2017 Murphy and Hutchinson.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Rheumatology Department, Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro, TR1 3LH, UK; Tel: 01872 250000; E-mail:



Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic, inflammatory disease with an estimated global prevalence of 0.3–1.0%. An unexplained association exists between low formal education and the development of RA independent of smoking. It is established that RA is initiated in the lungs and that various occupations associated with dust, fume and metal inhalation can increase the risk of RA development.


The objective of this review is to evaluate published clinical reports related to occupations associated with RA development. We highlight the concept of a “double-hit” phenomenon involving adsorption of toxic metals from cigarette smoke by dust residing in the lung as a result of various work exposures. We discuss the relevant pathophysiological consequences of these inhalational exposures in relation to RA associated autoantibody production.


A thorough literature search was performed using available databases including Pubmed, Embase, and Cochrane database to cover all relative reports, using combinations of keywords: rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid factor, anti-citrullinated peptide antibody silica, dust, fumes, metals, cadmium, cigarette smoking, asbestos, mining, bronchial associated lymphoid tissue, heat shock protein 70, and adsorption.


We postulate that the inhalation of dust, metals and fumes is a significant trigger factor for RA development in male patients and that male RA should be considered an occupational disease. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first review of occupations as a risk factor for RA in relation to the potential underlying pathophysiology.

Keywords: Silica, Dust, Occupation, Inhalation, Cadmium, Cigarette smoking, Bronchial associated lymphoid tissue, Adsorption, Rheumatoid arthritis.