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OBJECTIVES: While reproductive factors might plausibly be involved in the aetiology of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the female predominance remains unexplained. A study was undertaken to address the possible impact of live births, pregnancy losses and pregnancy complications on the subsequent risk of RA in a nationwide cohort study. METHODS: National register data were used to link reproductive histories and later RA hospitalisations in a cohort of 4.4 million Danes. As a measure of relative risk associated with different reproductive histories, ratios of first inpatient RA hospitalisation rates (RRs) were used with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) obtained by Poisson regression analysis. RESULTS: Overall, 7017 women and 3041 men were admitted to hospital with RA in 1977-2004 (88.8 million person-years). The risk of RA was inversely associated with age at birth of first child in both women and men (p for trend <0.001). Overall, nulliparity and a history of pregnancy loss were not associated with RA risk but, compared with one-child mothers, women with two (RR 0.84; 95% CI 0.78 to 0.90) or three (RR 0.83; 95% CI 0.77 to 0.91) children were at reduced risk. The risk of RA was increased in women with a history of hyperemesis (RR 1.70; 95% CI 1.06 to 2.54), gestational hypertension (RR 1.49; 95% CI 1.06 to 2.02) or pre-eclampsia (RR 1.42; 95% CI 1.08 to 1.84). CONCLUSIONS: One-child mothers and young parents are at increased risk of RA later in life, possibly due to socioeconomic factors. The novel finding of a significantly increased risk of RA in women whose pregnancies were complicated by hyperemesis, gestational hypertension or pre-eclampsia might reflect reduced immune adaptability to pregnancy in women disposed to RA or a role of fetal microchimerism in the aetiology of RA.

Original publication




Journal article


Ann Rheum Dis

Publication Date





358 - 363


Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Arthritis, Rheumatoid, Denmark, Epidemiologic Methods, Female, Hospitalization, Humans, Hyperemesis Gravidarum, Hypertension, Pregnancy-Induced, Male, Maternal Age, Middle Aged, Pre-Eclampsia, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Complications, Reproductive History, Sex Distribution, Young Adult