Rheumatology

When Your Body Attacks Itself

  • November 1, 2019
  • 1 minute read

Given that diabetes increases your susceptibility to certain forms of arthritis, it pays to keep the condition at bay or under control.

Few people associate arthritis with diabetes, but the two diseases are closely connected. Research shows that diabetes increases your risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and arthritis-related issues by around 20%. By the same token, having RA increases your risk of developing diabetes by 50%. There are various explanations for this.

Chronic inflammation due to diabetes may result in RA. Both RA and type 1 diabetes are autoimmune diseases, and research suggests that some people tend to have more than one type of autoimmune disease. This is partly due to genetics. Scientists have found a common gene in both individuals with type 1 diabetes and a specific subset of individuals with RA, which may contribute to the development of both conditions.

Just as the body attacks its own cells within the joints in RA, the body can also attack its own pancreatic cells that make insulin, resulting in diabetes. RA is a disorder where your body’s immune system is unable to distinguish healthy cells from harmful ones such as bacteria and viruses. This confusion results in your immune system releasing antibodies that mistakenly attack healthy and functional cells and tissues. The disease is characterised by chronic inflammation and loss of function in the joints. Unlike osteoarthritis, which causes wear and tear to occur, RA can attack joints in various parts of the body at the same time, causing inflammation. Left untreated, RA can damage the organs and other tissues that surround the affected joints.

Risk factors for RA are:

  • Age – it’s most common between ages 20 and 50
  • Gender – women are more susceptible
  • Dental hygiene
  • Smoking

While there is no known prevention or cure for RA, lifestyle modifications such as not smoking as well as losing excess weight may help prevent diabetes. This in turn reduces the risk of RA.

If you have RA, there are ways to help control the pain, prevent disease progression and further complications. For most cases, your rheumatologist will prescribe medications based on the severity of the condition. Common ones include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, and biologic agents.

Aside from medications, therapy also enables you to manage your pain better and improve the quality of your life. If medications and therapy do not help, and there is severe damage of the joints, surgery is recommended.

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