Recent research has revealed certain connections between rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. Both are autoimmune diseases that require diagnoses and ongoing treatment to give the patient relief. Find out more about the connection between rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes and what you can do about it.
- In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the thin membrane that lines the joints. This causes inflammation, pain, swelling, heat, redness and can lead to joint destruction if the condition is not treated. Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce or use the hormone insulin, which carries sugar to the cells to convert into energy. Without insulin blood sugar levels rise and cells do not get essential energy. This leads to fatigue, inflammation, and nerve damage and could result in problems such as eye damage, kidney damage, heart disease and stroke. While rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes are not directly related, often the diseases overlap.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of people with diabetes also have rheumatoid arthritis. Research has also revealed genetic connections between rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes type 1. Inflammation is associated with both conditions. Levels of inflammatory markers such as interleukin-1 (IL-1) and C-reactive protein (CRP) are often high in those with rheumatoid arthritis and people with diabetes. A gene called PTPN22 has been linked with the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes type 1 as well as other autoimmune diseases. While genetics are beyond our control, early diagnosis helps. If your family has a history of autoimmune diseases including arthritis and/or diabetes, talk to your doctor about testing and preventative treatments.
- Rheumatoid arthritis does not cause diabetes and vice versa, but they can both be worsened by a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. Two risk factors shared by those with rheumatoid arthritis and those with diabetes are age and weight. Weight gain and loss of muscle mass can aggravate the symptoms of arthritis and diabetes. Losing just 5-10% percent of your total body weight can make a difference. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Start by doing gentle stretches such as yoga or Tai Chi. Include aerobic activities such as swimming or walking. Wear an Omron pedometer when you walk to gauge your progress and help you go a bit further each day.
- Certain drugs that may be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, such as steroids, can increase the risk of diabetes. People with rheumatoid arthritis should talk to their health care team about testing their glucose levels prior to using corticosteroids as this drug is a risk for hyperglycemia.
- People with arthritis who have pain may become more sedentary which can increase the risk of diabetes. It is important to eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fish, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Stay away from preserved foods, sugary desserts, and salty snacks.
- If you have diabetes, you may experience joint pain as well as inflammation, numbness, and soreness. These symptoms can also be associated with rheumatoid arthritis. If these symptoms become more persistent talk to your doctor about the possibility of rheumatoid arthritis.
If you have diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, be aware of the connections and watch for overlapping symptoms. Talk to your health care team about the proper diet, exercise and medications for optimum well-being. Leading a healthy, active lifestyle can make a huge difference in your overall health.