If you have arthritis, giving up is not an option

Joint pains and back pain are a very common ailment people visit a doctor with. It becomes disabling if symptoms become chronic. Arthritis has a big impact on the lives of millions of people worldwide. It affects them physically, emotionally and socially as well. It is important to diagnose and treat it early before arthritis takes the upper hand. World arthritis day is observed on the 12th of October every year to spread awareness about arthritis.

Arthritis means joint inflammation causing pain and stiffness. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis which is due to wear and tear of joints and commonly affects knees, hips and low back. The other type of arthritis is inflammatory arthritis, which comes under the purview of a rheumatologist. This group includes rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and many more. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect women more than men, more so in 30-60y age group. It is an autoimmune disease. Genetic, environmental factors and smoking all play a role. About 1 in 100 people are affected by rheumatoid arthritis in India.

The symptoms suggestive of rheumatoid arthritis include pain in multiple joints, especially hands, wrists, feet and knees lasting more than 4 to 6 weeks. There may be swelling in the joints and typically severe early morning joint stiffness. Fatigue and feverishness commonly accompany. Treatment should be initiated under the guidance of a rheumatologist as early as 6 to 8 weeks of symptom onset, to be able to get a good hold on the arthritis.

The treatment is usually long term and includes medications called disease modifying anti rheumatic drugs. They may require simple pain killers or a short course of steroids when they are going through a flare up. For people with very severe arthritis we have biologic drugs that can be given in the form of tablets, injections or intravenous route. They are targeted treatment that work in a novel way and  halt joint destruction. Apart from medications, adapting life style changes including regular exercise, stopping smoking, eating healthy and maintaining an ideal weight are important.

We get to hear very interesting stories from our patients, as to how their lives changed because of arthritis. “At 28, I delivered my first baby. Things did not go as well as I had thought, as life had other plans for me. Within a few weeks of delivery I developed severe arthritis. I could not even hold my baby due to pain. I had to be started on medications to control the pain. It was an everyday struggle juggling between daily chores, baby and a full time job. My life was ruled and dominated by the pain. I then consulted my doctor, who ran some tests and started me on these medications, advised simple measures to control the pain. Soon I was able to start to lead a normal life. I know how to take care of my joints now, with regular medications, exercise and eating a balanced diet”.

The outlook for people with rheumatoid arthritis is improving everyday with the advent of new and more effective medications. It is possible to lead a normal active life by taking regular medications and making necessary lifestyle changes. The key is to start treatment early and take it regularly.

Dr. Chethana D, Consultant-Rheumatology, Aster CMI Hospital

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