10 Facts about Diabetes and RA

Patient Expert

1. Your body breaks food down into glucose. It then uses insulin produced by the pancreas to convert that glucose to energy. If your body doesn't produce enough insulin itself, you may develop diabetes. Almost 24 million people in the US live with diabetes, approximately 3 percent of the population.

2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. It typically develops during childhood, but may also affect adults. People who have Type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day.

3.  Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, affecting 90-95 percent of people living with the condition. This type of diabetes tends to be associated with obesity, age, physical inactivity and previous history of gestational diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is usually treated with monitoring blood sugars, healthy eating, exercise and possibly diabetes medication.

4. There appears to be no link between RA and Type 1 diabetes. However, people with RA may be at higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. People with RA may be more sedentary, experience weight gain due to lack of physical activity or medications or take prednisone, all of which are risk factors for Type 2 diabetes.

5. It's important for people with RA to stay ahead of a number of possible comorbidities, including the increased risk of developing diabetes. Regular checks of your cholesterol and blood sugar levels (both simple blood tests) and monitoring your blood pressure will enable you to deal with problems early. This can help you manage the risks of diabetes and heart disease.

6. People who have developed Type 2 diabetes often have no symptoms. Those who do have symptoms may experience any of a variety, including increased thirst or hunger (especially after eating), frequent urination, dry mouth, fatigue, blurred vision, weight loss, sores that are slow to heal and erectile dysfunction in men and yeast infection in women.

7. Your blood tests may indicate that you are pre-diabetic. This means that your blood sugar have a higher than normal blood glucose levels. If you have pre-diabetes, it may be possible to reverse the risk of developing diabetes. Becoming more active and changing your diet can be an important lifestyle changes to manage the risk.

8. Being more active may be difficult for people with RA. If you have pre-diabetes and RA, talk to your doctor about suggestions on how to lower the risk of developing diabetes. This can include getting a referral to a physical therapist who can help you put together an exercise program to increase your activity level, while protecting your joints.

9. A medication used to treat mild cases of RA appears to significantly reduce the risk of developing diabetes in people who have RA. In two studies, Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) was shown to reduce the risk of diabetes in people with RA 53 and 77 percent respectively. If you have risk factors for diabetes, such as obesity, speak to your rheumatologist about whether taking Plaquenil would be right for you.

10. Although steroids may increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, treating RA with other medication can reduce the risk. Studies show that certain RA drugs, such as methotrexate and TNF blockers (e.g., Enbrel, Humira, Remicade) can improve insulin sensitivity. One study showed that TNF blockers can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 51 percent.

Visit the HealthCentral Diabetes site to learn more this condition, treatment and day-to-day living with diabetes.