Taking their medications as prescribed significantly lowers lupus patients' risk of developing diabetes, a new study finds.
Type 2 diabetes is a common complication of lupus, an autoimmune disease that can cause damaging inflammation in many organs, as well as rashes, fatigue and joint pain.
For the new study, researchers analyzed four years of data on nearly 1,500 lupus patients in British Columbia, Canada, and found that those who followed their medication regimen were much less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
In particular, those who consistently took antimalarial drugs like hydroxychloroquine had 39% lower odds of developing diabetes, according to the study published recently in Arthritis Care & Research.
"Antimalarial drugs are actively used to treat lupus symptoms long-term," said senior author Mary de Vera, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. "Now we know that they can also significantly protect patients against type 2 diabetes, if taken as prescribed for the required length of time."
To reduce their risk of diabetes, lupus patients need to take their medications at least 90% of the time, according to the researchers.
"It's not enough to take your meds a few times, you need to take them faithfully," de Vera said. "Our finding suggests that the benefits hinge on adhering to the treatment plan for as long as required."
Previous studies showed that between 43% and 75% of lupus patients do not take their medications as prescribed, she said.
"What we didn't know was what the impact of that was on diabetes, which is a serious complication. Now, for the first time, we have a good idea," de Vera added.
Lupus affects at least 5 million people worldwide. There is no known cure.
The Lupus Foundation of America has more on lupus.