CDC: 52% With Diabetes Have Arthritis

Arthritis, Diabetes Sufferers Less Active; CDC Stresses Double Need for Exercise

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 08, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

May 8, 2008 -- More than half of people with diabetes also suffer arthritis, CDC researchers find.

It's not just a problem for older people. Diabetes patients aged 18 to 44 have a 27.6% chance of having arthritis -- 2.5 times the 11% rate seen in the general population.

In the 45-64 age group, arthritis strikes 51.8% of people with diabetes and 36.4% of the general population. Arthritis afflicts 62.4% of diabetes patients 65 and older, vs. 56.2% of those without diabetes. The findings come from nationwide telephone surveys conducted in 2005 and 2007.

The extent of the problem surprised the research team, says Charles Helmick, MD, lead scientist for the CDC's arthritis program.

"We expected there would be these differences [in arthritis prevalence] among older people, but there were very strong differences among younger people, too," Helmick tells WebMD. "A lot of them had both arthritis and diabetes -- as well as physical activity levels that were not very high."

(Read more about this on Helmick's blog on WebMD).

That's the crux of the issue. Exercise is particularly important for people with diabetes. It's also extremely important for people with arthritis. Yet the CDC study shows that when people with diabetes have arthritis, they are much less likely to get the exercise they need to prevent both diseases from getting worse.

People with diabetes don't always exercise as much as they should. More than 20% of people with diabetes are inactive. But 30% of people with both diabetes and arthritis are inactive.

What's going on? Arthritis gives people with diabetes a new reason to exercise. But it also creates new barriers to physical activity, Helmick says.

"In diabetes, we speculate, everybody has the usual barriers for not being physically active: not having time, competing priorities, lack of motivation, and so on," he says. "But when you have arthritis you have special barriers on top of those. You don't know what activities are safe. And you worry: 'Will exercise make my joint pain worse?' 'Will exercise harm my joints?'"

Fortunately, simple activities such as walking, swimming, and bicycling are friendly to arthritic joints -- and they are things most people can do. And there's lots of help for people who need more specific advice, starting with the CDC's arthritis web site ( and including exercise programs developed by the Arthritis Foundation (

Helmick says the Stanford University-developed Chronic Disease Self-Management Program ( may be even better for patients dealing with both diabetes and arthritis.

"People with diabetes and also arthritis should know they have a lot of company," Helmick says. "More important, there are many ways for people with diabetes to be more active -- even with arthritis. And it is going to have benefits not only for their arthritis but for their diabetes as well."

Helmick and colleagues report the details of their study in the May 9 issue of the CDC's MMWR: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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CDC: MMWR: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 9, 2008; vol 57: pp 486-489.

Charles Helmick, MD, medical epidemiologist, Arthritis Program, CDC, Atlanta.

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