There are several types of arthritis. If you have arthritis, it won’t directly affect your diabetes. However, many of the medications you may take for arthritis can affect blood glucose control. And arthritis can make it more difficult to do the things you need to do to give yourself good diabetes care.
The three most common types of arthritis are degenerative joint disease, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. Degenerative joint disease is the most common type of arthritis. It results from wear and tear on your joints. This can lead to stiffness and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease thought to be caused by an immune system attack on the tissues of the joints. It is marked by red, swollen and extremely painful joints. Gout is a somewhat rare, painful condition that occurs more often in people with diabetes than in the general population. It is caused by crystals of uric acid that collects in the joints. High blood pressure medications and eating animal organs such as kidney and liver can also contribute to gout. Avoiding these and other foods can diminish the symptoms of gout.
What to Do
If you have arthritis, ask your doctor about what medications can affect your blood glucose control. Large doses of aspirin (12 tablets daily), which are frequently taken to relieve symptoms of arthritis, lower blood glucose levels and make you more prone to hypoglycemia. Phenacetin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can harm the kidney. If you have a history of kidney disease, do not take any arthritis medication without first checking with your doctor. Make sure you tell any arthritis specialist you see that you have diabetes. And make sure any arthritis medication you take has the approval of your diabetes care doctor.
If you have arthritis, you may also have mobility problems. You have probably been told to exercise to control your diabetes, but this can be hard if you have arthritis. Depending on the extent to which you are affected, you may be able to find some exercises to do that will not damage your joints. Swimming, for example, is an excellent choice. Many health clubs offer aquatic classes or water therapy sessions specifically designed for people with arthritis or mobility problems. Consider becoming involved with something like this. It could go a long way toward controlling your diabetes and also providing therapy to relieve the symptoms of arthritis.
Arthritis can also make it more difficult to take care of your diabetes. If your joints are severely affected, even testing your blood glucose or injecting insulin can become a major challenge. If this is the case, try to solicit help from a family member or friend. Talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about particular products that may be easier to use for a person with arthritis. For example, you may find it more convenient to use an insulin pump than to deal with insulin syringes. An automatic lancing device can make blood testing easier than pricking your finger manually. Make sure your doctor and other members of your health care team can understand your limitations so they can help you make the adjustments you need.
Other medical conditions, such as asthma and allergies, do not necessarily affect diabetes directly. However, whenever you suffer from any other disease or condition, and take medication either on an occasional or regular basis, check with your doctor to see how it might affect your blood glucose control. For example, corticosteroids used to treat asthma, allergies, and some joint disorders can raise blood glucose levels. However, do not under any circumstances discontinue any medication out of concern for your blood glucose level without first checking with your doctor. In some cases, discontinuing certain medications can be life-threatening. Do not start or stop taking any drug without your doctor’s approval. You may need to consult with both your diabetes care doctor and the doctor who is treating your other conditions. Also, check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications.
Sources and References
The Diabetes Problem Solver—Quick Answers to Your Questions About Treatment and Self-Care by Nancy Touchette
Diabetes Is Associated with Musculoskeletal Pain, Osteoarthritis, Osteoporosis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis by T Rehling, O Ekholm et al