Oral contraceptives, breastfeeding and the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis: results from the Swedish EIRA study

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To study whether oral contraceptive (OC) use or breastfeeding (BF) influence the risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), stratifying the cases by presence/absence of anticitrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA), and whether these factors interact with known risk factors in the development of ACPA-positive RA.


Women aged ≥18 years, participants in the population-based case–control Swedish Epidemiological Investigation of RA study (2641 cases/4251 controls), completed an extensive questionnaire regarding OC, BF and potential confounders. We calculated ORs, with 95% CIs, adjusted for age, residential area, smoking and alcohol consumption. Attributable proportion due to interaction (AP) was estimated to evaluate presence of interaction.


Compared with never users, ever and past OC users had a decreased risk of ACPA-positive RA (OR=0.84 (95% CI 0.74 to 0.96); OR=0.83 (95% CI 0.73 to 0.95), respectively). No significant associations were found for ACPA-negative RA. Long duration of OC use (>7 years vs never use) decreased the risk of both ACPA-positive (p=0.0037) and ACPA-negative RA (p=0.0356).


A history of long BF decreased the risk only of ACPA-positive RA in a dose-dependent manner (p=0.0086), but this trend did not remain after adjustments. A significant interaction was observed between the lack of OC use and smoking (AP=0.28 (95% CI 0.14–0.42)) on the risk of ACPA-positive RA. No interactions were found for BF.


OC decreased the risk of RA, especially ACPA-positive RA, where an interaction with smoking was observed. A long duration of OC use decreased the risk of both disease subsets. We could not confirm an association between BF and a decreased risk of either ACPA-positive or ACPA-negative RA.

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