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The Link Between Diabetes and Arthritis: Possibly a 'Joint' Condition

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Arthritis related image Photo: Getty Images

I remember watching my maternal grandmother struggle not only with diabetes during her later years, but also with the debilitating effects of arthritis and all of the associated joint pain. A beautiful lady, I felt so badly for her as she suffered through the afternoon and evening of her life. Both diseases took their obvious toll on her body, and the joint issues she sustained were very evident in her hands and in her gait. While she tried to ignore the amount of pain she was in, it was obviously compromising her formerly active lifestyle. I remember thinking how unfair it was that she was dealing with two significant health issues simultaneously.

Recent research indicates that individuals with diabetes are almost twice as likely to have arthritis. There does appear to be a strong diabetes-arthritis connection. If you suffer from both diseases, then you are most likely undergoing different treatments for both of them and are probably under the care of different physicians. For my grandmother, she had a revolving door of appointments, treatments, and lifestyle changes to pursue.

The good news in this regard is that the lifestyle changes you make can have a positive impact on both conditions. Just a simple daily regimen of walking and eating healthy foods benefits not only the diabetes, but the arthritis as well.
Diabetes creates changes in the musculoskeletal system which can lead to stiffness and joint pain. You may experience swelling near the joints or develop nodules under the skin, especially in the fingers. Other possible ailments include trigger finger, carpal tunnel syndrome, sore shoulders, and badly affected feet. When diabetes has been present for a number of years, significant joint damage, also known as diabetic arthropathy, can present.

However, just because you have diabetes does not necessarily mean a diagnosis of arthritis is right around the corner, nor does having arthritis necessarily mean you will be a victim of diabetes, either. If you have one of these conditions and strive to take good care of yourself, you increase your chances of keeping the other disease at bay.

When it comes to the marriage of diabetes and joint issues, there is a direct link between type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis. Typically, type 2 diabetes is seen in individuals who are overweight. The excess weight contributes to an excessive load on the joints in the lower body. Primarily affected in these cases are the hips, the ankles, and the knees.

The most obvious solution, then, would be to lose weight. Even a slight weight loss will remove significant pressure off of the hips, knees, and ankles. In fact, a weight loss of 15 pounds can reduce knee pain in half. When you lose approximately five to ten percent of your body weight, you can potentially reduce the blood sugar levels in your body, which can allow you to ease off the insulin and other medications used to treat diabetes.

Other types of bone and joint problems usually associated with diabetes include, but are not limited to, diabetic hand syndrome, Charcot’s joint, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis.

Diabetic hand syndrome is a condition in which the skin on the hands begins to thicken and appear waxy in texture. The increased thickness then begins to limit the mobility in the fingers. Some individuals affected by this may not be able to fully extend their fingers or press their palms together flat.

Charcot’s joint is a bone disorder that mainly targets the feet. Joints begin to deteriorate due to nerve damage, which is a complication of diabetes. This can ultimately lead to deformities of the feet as the bone structure collapses.

Most of us know by now that osteoporosis is a condition that weakness the bones and causes them to become brittle. For those with osteoporosis, even the slightest fall or injury can result in a fractured bone. People who have type 1 diabetes are at an increased risk for osteoporosis, as such individuals usually have bone mineral density levels that are below the normal range.

The joint disorder, osteoarthritis, results in the breakdown of joint cartilage. It can affect any joint in the body. For my grandmother, this was most prevalent in her hands. She frequently had issues with performing basic daily tasks, such as buttoning a shirt or opening a jar of pickles.

What inspired me most about my grandmother is she valiantly moved forward with her life, not allowing her conditions to get the best of her. Even though, at times, her life was compromised by her health issues, her primary focus was on eating proper foods, getting regular exercise, and, above all, maintaining a positive attitude. She also adhered to the advice of her doctors, and, well, if a jar of pickles needed to be opened, she had several grandchildren at the ready to pitch in and help! More than anything, however, I just remember those hands as being very loving and guiding. Diabetes and arthritis never took that away from her!

(Information on this article was found at
and at www.mayoclinic.com)

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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