Patients with rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune forms of the condition are at an increased risk of becoming diabetic, a recent study reveals.

The study, published in the online edition of Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, claims that such patients stand a 50 percent more chance of getting diabetes than others. The study involved the analysis of medical records culled out in British Columbia, Canada between 1996 and 2006.

Researchers poured over medical records of 48,718 patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis alongside that of 442,033 other patients who had no history of rheumatic diseases in an effort to assess the risk of developing diabetes.

“With psoriatic arthritis, it’s been known there’s an increased risk of diabetes, so in some respects, our psoriatic cohort was our positive control group. Finding the increased risk in psoriatics confirmed that our method was sound,” says Daniel Solomon MD, the author of the study.

Dr. Solomon, who works with the Division of Rheumatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says the risk of getting diabetes goes up with age and body mass index or BMI. It was found that people with rheumatoid arthritis also ran a higher risk of heart and lung disease and osteoporosis.

The study does not elaborate on the cause of the increased diabetes risk amongst patients of rheumatoid arthritis. But, Dr. Solomon believes that it could be connected to inflammation and possibly inactivity.

Patients suffering from the rheumatic disease should not be alarmed over the new findings as the incidence of diabetes is quite common these days. “It is just that such people are at an increased risk and it would do them good to stay healthy and fit,” says Dr. Solomon.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system starts attacking the joints and other organs, instead of defending them. If the organ that’s attacked is the pancreas, where insulin is made, it can affect the production of insulin leading to diabetes, the researchers think.