by Kerry Simpson

The art of Arthritis

Understanding Arthritis can eliminate unnecessary pain and deformity

Decipher the pain
Arthritis affects all ages

This year the cause is supported by the 'Join the Fight against Autoimmune diseases' campaign. The theme is 'Waving for World Arthritis day' – aptly named as it brings forth the realisation that even the simplest physical activity can cause great difficulty for sufferers, activities which we often take for granted.

 Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States, affecting one in five adults. Dr Marietjie du Plooy (a specialist rheumatologist at the Wits University, Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg) confirmed the affect it has closer to home. "Arthritis is a serious issue here in South Africa as well. The incidence here matches the rest of the world and is, for rheumatoid arthritis alone, somewhere between one and three percent of the population, which means that as many as one and a half million South Africans could be living with an arthritic condition".

 "Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe arthritis is a single condition, which can prevent individuals from getting the correct diagnosis and treatment for their specific disease and result in irreversible damage," Dr du Plooy notes.

 She also emphasises the fact that many forms of the disease are treatable and controllable. "This is a very exciting time in terms of treatments for arthritis. The advent of the Disease Modifying Anti-rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs) has really changed things. The synthetic version is effective in 80% of cases and the 'biologic' treatments, or a combination of both types, usually work for the remaining 20%."

 Dr du Plooy urges anyone who suspects they might be suffering from a form of arthritis to get diagnosed and onto treatment as soon as possible. Patients should not stop the treatments when they start to feel better. Low-grade inflammation might be causing ongoing joint damage and, in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the disease could also be harming the heart and lungs.

 A healthy lifestyle can also help sufferers. Exercise can protect or improve mobility and slow the progression of arthritis and, while the evidence suggests that diet only directly influences gout, being overweight or putting on weight will aggravate most arthritic conditions.

 Dr du Plooy highlights the unnecessary pain and irreversible damage arthritis suffers can experience. "We need to tackle the misconceptions so that people understand there are numerous types of arthritis, which can develop at any age, and that getting accurately diagnosed is critical."

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