It’s long been known by doctors that people with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to suffer with osteoarthritis. Osteo is the most common kind of arthritis, which occurs when the cartilage that provides a cushion between bones wears away, causing inflammation, stiffness and pain in joints.
Doctors have also recognized for years that diabetes affects connective tissue in many ways and causes musculoskeletal changes in the body. This can lead to stiff and painful joints; stiff hands; swollen joints; nodules under the skin, especially in fingers; carpal tunnel syndrome; shoulder pain; and severely affected feet.
It was previously thought that the diabetes / arthritis relationship was of the mechanical, wear and tear kind. Overweight people with diabetes developed arthritis in their lower extremities due to stress on their weight-bearing joints, primarily hips and knees. But new research has shown that even diabetics who are not overweight are twice as likely as non diabetics to suffer problems with their weight-bearing and non weight-bearing joints.
Over a 20-year period, researchers in Europe followed a group of diabetic and non-diabetic patients. As would be expected , a portion of the group eventually required total knee joint replacement surgery. What surprised the researchers is that when they factored in age and body mass index, the patients with type 2 diabetes were twice as likely to require joint replacement surgery than those without diabetes. That means along with body mass index and age, diabetes has now been shown to be an independent risk factor in developing osteoarthritis in anyone with the disease – regardless of age or weight.
“I think it is a very important study because it clearly establishes that severe osteoarthritis is a component of diabetes complications,” says George King, MD, research director of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “This has been talked about before – that arthritis and other musculoskeletal problems are increased in diabetics. But… this is a population-based study that clearly establishes a link.”
While the study points out the statistical link, it doesn’t answer why this is the case. The study authors have suggested that osteoarthritis may be just one symptom of metabolic syndrome – a group of risk factors, such as obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, that raise the chances of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The authors suggest that high blood sugar levels may contribute to the deterioration of collagen, one of the main components of cartilage. Or it might stimulate the production of inflammatory substances that damage the joint.
When diagnosed with diabetes, it’s critical that you manage your disease properly to avoid or delay complications like osteoarthritis. Follow your physician’s advice on diet and exercise, and take medicine to control your blood sugar as directed.