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According to a study conducted in Sweden, men with low testosterone may have an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA). These results were published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects an estimated 1.3 million people in the United States. The disease tends to be more common among women than among men, suggesting that hormonal factors may contribute to the disease.

To evaluate the relationship between testosterone levels and subsequent risk of RA in men, researchers in Sweden conducted a study among 104 men with RA and 174 similar men without RA.  Among the men with RA, blood had been drawn a median of 13 years prior to diagnosis.

After accounting for smoking and body mass index, men with lower levels of testosterone were more likely to develop RA than men with higher levels of testosterone. The relationship between low testosterone and RA was restricted to RA that was rheumatoid factor-negative.

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These results suggest that low testosterone may increase the risk of rheumatoid factor-negative RA. Because this is one of the first studies to assess testosterone in blood samples collected several years prior to RA diagnosis, additional studies are needed to confirm the association. It’s also uncertain whether the results of this study will be generalizable to men of other races or geographic regions; this study was conducted among a predominantly white, Scandinavian population.

Reference: Pikwer M, Giwercman A, Bergstrom U et al. Association between testosterone levels and risk of future rheumatoid arthritis in men: a population-based case-control study. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. Early online publication April 3, 2013.