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Original research
Dusty trades and associated rheumatoid arthritis in a population-based study in the coal mining counties of Appalachia


Objectives We previously showed increased coal mining-associated risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Using additional survey data, we sought to delineate this risk further.

Methods We used data from two cross-sectional, random-digit-dial, population-based surveys (males;≥50 years) in selected counties in the Appalachian region of the inland, mid-Atlantic USA with elevated pneumoconiosis mortality. Surveys ascertained age, smoking, coal mining and non-coal silica exposure jobs. In a subset, we surveyed ergonomic exposures, scored by intensity. We queried diagnosis of RA, corticosteroid use, and, in a subset, use of disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Multivariable logistic regression modelled RA risk (defined by glucocorticoid or DMARDs use) associated with coal mining employment, other silica exposure, smoking status, and age and ergonomic exposures.

Results We analysed data for 2981 survey respondents (mean age 66.6 years; 15% current, 44% ex-smokers). The prevalence of glucocorticoid-treated and DMARD-treated RA was 11% and 4%, respectively. Glucocorticoid-treated RA was associated with coal mining (OR 3.5; 95% CI 2.5 to 4.9) and non-coal mining silica exposure (OR 3.2; 95% CI 2.4 to 4.4). For DMARD-treated RA, the odds associated with coal mining and other silica remained elevated: OR 2.3 (95% CI 1.18, 4.5) and OR 2.7 (95% CI 1.51, 5.0), respectively. In the same model, the highest intensity ergonomic exposure also was associated with increased odds of RA (OR 4.3; 95% CI 1.96 to 9.6).

Conclusions We observed a strong association between coal mining and other silica-exposing dusty trades and RA. Clinicians and insurers should consider occupational histories in the aetiology of RA.

  • coal mining
  • musculoskeletal system
  • autoimmune diseases

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as online supplemental information.

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