Arthritis and Diabetes: the Surprising Connection

Arthritis is not one disease, but several. Osteoarthritis, which is usually found in older people, is caused by wear and tear on the joints. Inflammatory arthritis, on the other hand, refers to a group of autoimmune diseases, diseases in which the immune system attacks the body’s joints, and can occur at any age. Inflammatory arthritis diseases include ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form.

Surprisingly, while both types of arthritis are different from each other, they are both associated with Type 2 diabetes. Nearly 50% of people with type 2 diabetes also have arthritis, and a smaller but still significant proportion — 16% — of people with arthritis also have type 2 diabetes.

How is it that two diseases with different etiologies — inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis — both have a connection with diabetes, a third and completely different disease?

Interestingly, osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis are each related to diabetes in a different way.

Osteoarthritis and Diabetes

The connection between osteoarthritis and diabetes is certain. The American College of Rheumatology demonstrated that people with osteoarthritis in their hip or knee were significantly more likely to develop diabetes than those without osteoarthritis.

However, the underlying mechanism is has not been definitively proven. The College suggests that because osteoarthritis makes physical activity painful — even activity as seemingly light as walking — people who suffer from osteoarthritis are less physically active than those who do not have the disease.

As a result, many people with osteoarthritis become overweight. Being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle are both risk factors for type 2 diabetes. (Simply being overweight, in fact, is the greatest single risk factor for type 2 diabetes.)

Inflammatory Arthritis and Diabetes

People who suffer from the inflammatory arthritis diseases typically have high levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the body, as well as high levels of pro-inflammatory proteins, such as interleukin-6.

Both these proteins are connected to type 2 diabetes. Current medical knowledge finds that inflammation is one cause of insulin resistance, a condition in which the pancreas produces insulin, but the body does not react to it. Insulin resistance is a feature of prediabetes, a stepping-stone to full-blown type 2 diabetes.

Moreover, as in the case with osteoarthritis, inflammatory arthritis also makes it difficult for people to get enough physical exercise, and can also result in overweight or obesity.

Making matters worse is the fact that some of the medications for inflammatory arthritis, particularly corticosteroids, actually raise blood sugar levels, making type 2 diabetes more likely. However, as new treatments for inflammatory arthritis increasingly replace these medications, it will be easier for those suffering from inflammatory arthritis to avoid this risk factor.

The bottom line: whether you have osteoarthritis or inflammatory arthritis, be aware that you are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Do everything you can to maintain a normal weight and to get as much physical exercise as is possible.

At Hamilton Grove Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Hamilton, NJ, we are experts in managing chronic conditions. Our staff of physicians, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and nutritionists work together to make sure that all our residents receive the care they need to prevent their conditions from multiplying, and to maximize their enjoyment of life.

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