Are Diabetes and Arthritis Linked?

In a patient brief on the Arthritis Foundation website, there is an article titled, "The Link Between Arthritis and Diabetes." It lays out the relationship between diabetes and arthritis. The article states that: 1

Arthritis and diabetes have a lot in common. Almost half of all adults with diabetes — 47 percent — also have arthritis. People with arthritis have a 61 percent higher risk of developing diabetes than those without this joint disease.

The diabetes-arthritis association

A representative from the Arthritis Foundation helped me locate a wealth of information about the association between diabetes and arthritis. The research I reviewed reaches the broad conclusion that diabetes is a co-morbidity of most types of arthritis.2,3

This association was also established in two studies. Both showed an association between the two conditions.

The impact of diabetes on my life

If a person has Type 1, Type 2, or one of the other types of diabetes (depending on the source, there are between 6 and 14 recognized types of diabetes), our bodies do not have adequate means to process glucose and turn it into energy.

Keeping blood sugar levels in my preferred range

Increasingly, the diabetes academic and support community have settled on the definition of normal blood sugar as being between 80 and 170. I like to keep mine between 100 and 120, which is a narrow balance, but this range allows me to feel the absolute best.

High blood sugar reminds me of my RA flares

Still often during each day, my blood sugar will spike to or above 170. That brings me to the ways that high blood sugar seems a lot like an RA flare. Here are my top five similarities that occur when my blood sugar is over 170.

1. If my blood sugar is over 170 for a day, I hurt all over.
High blood sugar creates a body-wide storm of inflammation. This inflammation hurts every joint, every muscle, and every movement. Until I was diagnosed with RA, I did not have the words to describe my pain and stiffness.

2. If my blood sugar goes over 170 even for a few hours, I am exhausted.
High blood sugar, even for a few hours, can create exhaustion just like RA causes one to feel exhausted. When people say they cannot get out of bed because of RA, my immediate thought is, "What is your blood sugar?" For me at least, it is more often high blood sugar that is the culprit.

3. It does not take long if my blood sugar goes over 170 until I have a headache.
Talk about a miserable headache: high blood sugar, like an RA flare, can trigger blinding headaches. For me, a terrible headache usually builds slowly and then pounds away in a debilitating manner. Mine often occurs in my forehead (or at least, I think it is located there).

The way I deal with this is to first attack the blood sugar issue. Then, if my blood sugar is in control and I still have the headache, I think of the possibility of an RA flare.

4. After only a few hours of my blood sugar being over 170, I develop dry eyes.
I hate having dry eyes. I also hate putting in eye drops; it is nearly impossible for me to do so. Because of this, I have to keep my RA and blood sugar under control. Either one or usually both are triggers for dangerous dry eye. The expression, "There was not a dry eye in the house," is unlikely to be applied to a room full of RA or diabetes patients.

5. I already have diabetes neuropathy, but if my blood sugar goes over 170 for even a few hours, I have increased numbness or tingling in my feet and hands.
Sustained high blood sugar and RA can lead to a condition called peripheral neuropathy. Typically this is not caused by having a flare or high blood sugar but is, instead, the outgrowth of having high blood sugar or RA over time.

But once you have it, either a flare or high blood sugar can intensify the pain. My feet ache, burn, and have this stabbing pain. Getting high blood sugar under control can relieve some of the immediate hurt. But unlike the others on this list, it never completely goes away. Once you have it as the result of RA or diabetes, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

Common signs and symptoms of diabetes

While I have Type 1 diabetes, it is just as possible for these symptoms to occur in people with Type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, pre-diabetes, or any of the other types of diabetes. For people who have RA and have been told they have pre-diabetes, these symptoms can signal that your body has turned a corner, and you are now feeling the impact of Type 2 diabetes.

Other symptoms of high blood sugar that are an indicator of diabetes but not usually associated with an RA flare include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Sudden weight loss
  • An unquenchable thirst, and
  • A fruity breath smell

Talk to your doctor about checking your A1C

If you have any of the issues mentioned in either list, it is important to ask your doctor about the possibility of having your blood sugar or an A1C test done.

This is a simple test, and it can help your doctor either to diagnose or rule out diabetes. It is worth knowing about, especially if you have Type 2 or pre-diabetes because your suffering may be less about RA than blood sugar, and blood sugar is far easier to treat.

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