Objective: To evaluate the role of stressful life events, including negative childhood experiences on the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: Retrospective, community based, case-control study founded upon 116 cases, aged 45 to 74 years, registered with the Norfolk Arthritis Register (NOAR), who were also participants in the Norfolk European Prospective Investigation of Cancer study (EPIC). Three controls, matched for age and sex, were selected for each of the cases from among EPIC participants not suffering from arthritis. Data on adverse experiences during childhood and adulthood were available from a self-report questionnaire. The 1987 American Rheumatism Association (ARA) criteria for RA were met by 55 NOAR cases and this subset provided the primary focus for analysis.
Results: The number and timing of occurrence of stressful life events, as well as their subjective immediate impact, did not differ between participants who developed RA and their matched controls. Termination of pregnancy was the only specific event individually associated with a higher risk of developing RA (OR 3.74; 95% CI 1.4-9.9). Negative childhood experiences were not associated with the risk of RA. However, RA cases reported significantly slower adaptation to the effects of adverse events than controls.
Conclusion: The results of this study do not support the hypothesis that the rate of exposure or reported impact of stressful life events and of adverse childhood experiences play an etiologic role in the development of RA.