KOCHI: Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints causing inflammation in the synovium membrane surrounding the inner lining of the joints. The inflammation causes painful swelling, and if left unchecked, can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity. Although there is a misbelief that arthritis is a disease of old age, it can affect a person of any age and gender. RA is seen most commonly affecting women of 20-45 years. Although the exact cause of RA is still not known, multiple factors can play a role including genetic predisposition, hormonal factors, obesity, environmental factors like air pollution, cigarette smoking, infections (bacteria or viruses), insecticides and occupational exposure to mineral oil as well as silica can trigger the onset of RA.
The disease expression, in terms of rate of progression and severity, is also modified by various exogenous factors like smoking and access to treatment.
RA is a common disease with around 3 lakh Keralites suffering from tense disease. Although, through breakthrough advancements in the field, RA is treatable in 99 per cent of the patients. Still, there is a misconception in our society RA is not treatable, it can be treated only with steroids and so on. Hence, the first step towards effective RA management is busting long-held myths surrounding the condition and encouraging patients to seek the right medical treatment. Unfortunately, awareness levels in Kochi are still poor, making it challenging to tackle RA effectively. Due to this lack of awareness in majority of patients diagnosis is delayed by years.
RA and social life
From a social perspective- work limitation, compromised quality of life and loss of a productive population during their most productive years impose huge costs on society. If not treated according to conservative estimates nearly 40 per cent of patients are unable to work within 5 years of diagnosis, and 50 per cent within 10 years. Chronic pain and weakness also limit social interactions and active participation in leisure activities at both workplace and home. Over the long run, this leads to lack of confidence, isolation and increased level of depression in patients suffering from RA. With treatment, majority of patients can live a normal life. But the key is early diagnosis and proper treatment.
Right therapy at right time
People still visit alternative medicine specialists and try a lot of home remedies for months to years, before actually seeing a specialist doctor (Rheumatologist) for treatment. Therapy for RA has improved greatly in the past 20 years. Today, we have treatments that give most patients good or excellent relief of symptoms. And this coupled with a healthy lifestyle can keep patients functioning at, or near, normal levels. Therefore, it is important to educate people on seeking the right treatment for RA. With medical counsel and adherence to treatment regimes, RA is completely manageable.
The author is a Rheumatologist, Shenoy's Care, Kochi
(Views expressed are his own)