Are antibiotics causing rheumatoid arthritis?

When most of us think of arthritis, we probably think of the classic stiff, achy joints of the most common type of the disease — osteoarthritis.

But, there is another type of arthritis that’s a whole different animal, an autoimmune disease that attacks your joints, leaving them painful and swollen and possibly even disfigured and crippled.

Yup, we’re talking about rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that now affects more than 1.5 million Americans and can strike at any age.

Unfortunately, it’s also a disease that is barely understood by the medical community so they don’t know why it starts or how to cure it. Yet, every couple of years a new drug hits the market to combat the symptoms — drugs with increasingly dangerous side effects.

Related: The right food for real rheumatoid arthritis relief

And, now a new study has linked drugs that you’ve probably taken multiple times throughout your life with your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

60 Percent higher risk

A new study from researchers from Keele University and the Quadram Institute has now found a possible link between antibiotic usage is associated and an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Yup, antibiotics – drugs that we’ve all taken for everything from upper respiratory issues to an infected bug bite could cripple your joints.

In fact, the team found that the odds of developing rheumatoid arthritis were 60 percent higher in those exposed to antibiotics than in those not exposed.

And, although 60 percent is ridiculously high, the odds increased with the number of antibiotic treatments, and how recently they were taken. That means that if you’ve taken antibiotics more than once (and who of us hasn’t?) you could be at even higher risk!

They also determined that the type of infection you were given the antibiotic for was important. Upper respiratory tract infections treated with antibiotics were more associated with rheumatoid arthritis cases. Although the analysis also showed that all classes increased antibiotics increased the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Now, the researchers did point out that although the results showed a major link between antibiotic usage and rheumatoid, they can’t prove it was the antibiotics and not the infection that led to the disease. However, it’s important to note that the links have been seen with other recent studies associating antibiotic usage with an increased risk of other autoimmune conditions, including type 1 diabetes and autoimmune liver disease.

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Why the connection?

Well, according to the researchers, it’s because as well as targeting the bacteria behind infections, antibiotics affect your gut microbiome. This complex ecosystem of microbes helps maintain your own health and plays an important role in modulating your immune system.

And, a number of studies have found that the microbiome in people with rheumatoid arthritis is less diverse.

Dr. Lindsay Hall, Group Leader at the Quadram Institute on the Norwich Research Park, even went so far as to say, “The more we learn about the complexity of the microbiome, and how factors including antibiotics impact these diverse microbial ecosystems, the more insights we have into how this may alter key health outcomes. The challenge now is to unpick the mechanisms that link the microbes to different conditions, including RA, so that we can develop new therapeutics.”

When you put this all together, this could mean that protecting the health of your gut microbiome is the most effective way to prevent RA and keep your joints healthy for life. So, take probiotics, eat plenty of foods with healthy microbes in them such as kimchi, yogurt, and sauerkraut and only take antibiotics when it’s absolutely necessary.


  1. Arthritis By the Numbers — Arthritis Foundation
  2. Antibiotic usage associated with increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis — Medical Xpress
Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.