Health & Wellness

Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Need to be Screened for Diabetes

Though people with rheumatoid arthritis have a greater risk for diabetes, they’re not getting checked often enough, according to a new Canadian study

By Katrina Caruso

People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have a greater risk for heart attack and stroke, and for diabetes, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, so regularly screening for diabetes should be part of their health care. However, study results published this summer in The Journal of Rheumatology suggest that many doctors aren’t following screening guidelines for their patients.

The study was based on the cases of more than 22,600 RA patients in British Columbia between 1996 and 2006 and of roughly the same number of patients in the general population. The researchers looked at compliance with the standard diabetes screening guidelines, which recommend that people in general should have their blood plasma glucose level checked once every 3 years after the age of 45—a recommendation the researchers said was for people with RA “the minimum standard of care.”

During the period covered by the study, plasma glucose was measured appropriately 71.4% of the time among those who had RA, and 70.4% of the time among those who didn’t in the general population group. While these numbers may seem high, the difference between them is small, even though, relative to the general population, people with RA should be screened much more regularly.

Even more worrisome, 15% of the RA patients and 17.1% of the general population group received no plasma glucose testing at all over the course of the study. The majority of the doctors ordering the plasma glucose tests were family physicians.

The study concluded that diabetes screening for RA patients is currently suboptimal and amounts to “an important deficiency” in the care provded them. The researchers are calling for efforts to raise awareness of the increased risk for diabetes in people with RA and the need for stricter adherence to the guidelines, especially for people with RA.

Photo: Fotolia/pathdoc (man); Photo: iStock/Noppawan Laisuan (test).