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Arthritis – A disease of many faces

There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, that is why it is sometimes called the disease of many faces
01:00 AM Jan 10, 2024 IST | Guest Contributor
arthritis – a disease of many faces
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As a practicing Rheumatologist I come across people with arthritis harbouring the mistaken notion that arthritis confines its symptoms to the joints alone. Certainly, most common arthritic disorders involve the joints with pain and swelling of the joints being the most common symptoms, however, in many instances, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Arthritic disorders more appropriately “Rheumatic disorders” can affect any part of our body like skin, eyes, hair and sometimes vital organs like lungs, heart, kidney, and brain.

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Rheumatological diseases if left untreated apart from disability can increase the risk of heart diseases and stroke and can be a silent killer like diabetes and hypertension.

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There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, that is why it is sometimes called the disease of many faces.

The most common type of arthritis encountered in day-to-day practice is Osteoarthritis, which is caused by the inability of joints to repair themselves, leading to increased wear and tear.

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Then there is Inflammatory arthritis which is caused by the immune system reacting against its own body. Examples include Rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriatic arthritis, Gout, Juvenile arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus etc.

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Rheumatological diseases should be recognized as major diseases of public health concern. Early diagnosis and timely access to treatment can prevent further damage and burden on the individual and society. By consulting a Rheumatologist these diseases can be diagnosed early and treated in time so that one can lead a disability free normal life.

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Misconceptions about Rheumatic disease

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Rheumatic diseases are the second most common cause of disability throughout world. Unfortunately, the symptoms are often dismissed and a variety of misconceptions can often delay people from seeking help. Knowledge of the facts regarding rheumatic diseases is important and can help find appropriate therapy and solution for sufferers so that the quality of life can be equal to that of healthy people. Seeing a rheumatologist early can dramatically improve long term outcomes for patients.

Here are some myths about rheumatic diseases

Myth 1: Rheumatic disease is another name for arthritis.

Rheumatic diseases are specifically autoimmune and inflammatory diseases that cause the immune system (body’s defense system during infection) to attack joints, muscles and organs. Arthritis is one of the common affections of these diseases.

Myth 2: Symptoms are just aches and pains.

The symptoms of rheumatic diseases can be difficult to pin point. Other than aches and pains rheumatic conditions can cause patients to develop deformities so severe that they can ultimately make daily tasks, like walking or getting dressed, feel impossible. Patient may present with nonspecific symptoms like eye irritation, fatigue, fever, hair loss, chest pain or more severe symptoms related to kidneys, heart, lungs, or brain.

Myth 3: You do not need to see a specialist

Rheumatologists specialize in diagnosing, managing, and treating rheumatic disease and determine appropriate treatment, including medications and monitoring.

Myth 4: Rheumatic diseases only affect the elderly

Rheumatic diseases can affect children like Juvenile arthritis. Some arthritic disorders are more common in young age like Rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus. Some arthritis can be found in elderly due to deposition of uric acid in joints like Gout.

Myth 5: Rheumatic diseases only affect women

Lupus, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis are more common in women while gouty arthritis is more common in men.

Myth 6: Rheumatic disease can be caused by eating certain food

The only rheumatic disease associated with food (alcohol, shellfish, large amounts of red meat) is gout

Myth 7: Rheumatic disease is a hereditary disease

Rheumatic diseases are not directly passed on from parents to children, although in some types of rheumatic diseases, there are genetic factors that influence the tendency of the off spring to suffer from the same disease.

Myth 8: Traditional medicine is safer and more effective in curing rheumatic diseases

There is no scientific evidence that traditional medicine (herbal medicines, magnetic bracelets, bee sting etc) can cure rheumatism. Some of them, such as certain herbs, are even very dangerous and can cause complications such as stomach bleeding in sufferers who consume them

Myth 9: Injection into joints can harm the joints or cause bone loss

In certain circumstances injections into the joints are needed in the treatment of joint pain, if done correctly this therapy is very helpful for sufferers who experience inflammation of the joints. Injection into joints do not cause bone loss, and should be performed by a doctor who is an expert in their field.

Myth 10: Medicines for rheumatism should be stopped immediately if the pain is gone or reduced because rheumatic drugs are harmful to the kidneys

Consultation with a doctor is very important regarding the use of rheumatic drugs. Some drugs must be continued for the long term even though the pain has disappeared. It is better not to take anti pain medications yourself for a rheumatic problem, because each drug has its own properties and side effects, so it needs doctor’s supervision while using these drugs.

Myth 11: Rheumatic diseases are incurable and depend on medication for life

It is not always true that rheumatism is incurable. In some rheumatic diseases such as joint pain due to viruses, it can heal with the disappearance of the viral infection, however there are some diseases that require long term therapy and can be controlled with drugs so that the patient does not feel pain and can carry out activities like other healthy people.

Myth 12: Rheumatic disease is not a serious disease, many over the counter drugs are used to treat this disease.

In fact, on the contrary, do not consider rheumatism a normal disease, because some of these diseases can cause disability, some even endanger life and need proper handling.

BY Dr Lubna Khurshid

Dr Lubna Khurshid, Senior Consultant Rheumatology, Paras Health Srinagar

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