Women who take the pill at lower risk of arthritis
Women who take the oral contraceptive pill are protected from going on to develop arthritis in later life, a new study suggests.
Scientists believe hormonal changes prompted by the pill may decrease the risk of suffering from the painful disease.
Research in Sweden found that using the common contraceptive method for seven or more years was associated with a 19pc lower chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
However, women who had stopped using the pill still appeared to benefit from a protective effect, enjoying a 13pc lower risk of the condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis, which usually develops between the ages of 40 and 50, affects more than 400,000 people in the UK.
It occurs when the body's immune system targets joints such as the wrists and ankles, causing painful swelling, and is twice as common in women as it is in men.
This has led scientists to suspect hormonal and reproductive factors may contribute to the underlying cause.
Researchers at the Karolinska Institute drew on data from 2,809 women with the disease and compared it with the medical records of 5,312 women randomly selected from the general population.
They found that those who had used an oral contraceptive at any time had a lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis than those who had never done so. The risk was 15pc lower in current users of the pill.
Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can damage the joints themselves as well as the nearby cartilage.
There is no cure for the condition, however the symptoms can be treated using medication and supportive therapies such as physiotherapy.
"We were able to address these questions more thoroughly than has been possible before," the researchers wrote.
"Further research is required to explore the biological mechanisms behind our findings."
The oral contraceptive pill contains artificial versions of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which women produce naturally to prevent the ovary releasing an egg.
Pill usage declines steeply with age, from two-thirds of women aged 20 to 24, to 11pc of women in their late 40s.
Published in the 'Annals of Rheumatic Diseases', the study also sought to identify whether breastfeeding was associated with a lower risk of arthritis, as suspected, however no significant link was found. (© Daily Telegraph)