Antimalarial Treatment Prevents Diabetes in Arthritis Patients

November 26, 2008
Shivani Parmar, MPH

While obesity, hypertension, and diabetes have always shared connections, every now and then, scientists manage to make some of the unlikeliest connections. As it turns out, Geisinger Health System researchers found that "antimalarial medication may prevent the onset of diabetes in patients with rheumatoid arthritis."

While obesity, hypertension, and diabetes have always shared connections, every now and then, scientists manage to make some of the unlikeliest connections. As it turns out, Geisinger Health System researchers found that “antimalarial medication may prevent the onset of diabetes in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.”

The researchers reviewed the medical records of 2,093 Geisinger patients who had received rheumatoid arthritis treatment between 2000 and 2008. Specifically, researchers looked at the “use of the medication hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and the development of new cases of diabetes in these patients.” They found that using HCQ was linked to a 53% reduction in new diabetes cases in those with rheumatoid arthritis.

People with rheumatoid arthritis are at increased risk for developing diabetes because they tend to live a more sedentary lifestyle, have chronic inflammation, and use steroid medications that can often cause weight gain.

Rheumatoid arthritis is known to affect about 1.3 million people in the United States, while 23.6 million people in this country have diabetes.

Lead researcher Androniki Bili, MD, MPH, who presented the study findings at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting, said in a press release that “Given the relative safety and low cost of this generic drug, HCQ may be useful in preventing diabetes in other high risk groups… We should revisit HCQ in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis because, in addition to its disease-modifying properties, it might prevent the development of diabetes in this high risk group."