Health: Beware that joint pain
Early diagnosis and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis not only prevents joint pain but also tackles other health-related problems,
writes KASMIAH MUSTAPHA
IF you are suffering from joint pain and swelling, seek medical attention as you could be suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Sunway Medical Centre consultant physician and rheumatologist Dr Amir Azlan Zain says early diagnosis and treatment can prevent loss of function and joint damage as well as other health-related problems.
“Many sufferers often ignore the pain as they think that it will go away. It is essential to differentiate between normal joint pain and joint pain with swelling. If your joints are painful and have been swollen for some time, especially if there is no history of trauma, you need to immediately seek medical attention.
“Early diagnosis and treatment can minimise damage to the joints. It can also slow down or even stop the disease from progressing, giving patients a better quality of life and decreasing their financial burden.” Dr Amir, who is the president of the Arthritis Foundation of Malaysia, says new tests for RA allows doctors to diagnose the disease quickly and treat it early. “We are using is a specific test for RA. This allows doctors to diagnose RA quickly, allowing us to treat it early and avoid problems. If left untreated, RA can cause problems to the lungs, skin and eyes. People with RA have a shorter life span because of higher incidence of heart attacks and strokes.” RA is a chronic inflammatory disease that typically affects the hands and feet, although other joints may be affected including the knees, hips and shoulders. Sufferers will experience inflammation of the lining, or synovium, of the joints. It can lead to long-term joint damage, resulting in chronic pain, loss of function and disability. Late treatment could lead to permanent damage, including tendon, ligament, cartilage, bone destruction and deformity.
According to the Foundation, RA affects about five in 1,000 people in Malaysia. It can start at any age but is most common between the ages of 30 and 50. Women are more commonly affected than men. The disease progresses differently in different patients. Most people experience flare-ups with months or even years between each flare-up when there is little inflammation. This does not mean that there are no problems between the flare-ups, as some damage is caused each time the joint is inflamed. These people will have some pain in their joints and may have to modify their lifestyles, but are able to lead fairly normal lives.
About one in 20 will have RA that becomes progressively worse, despite treatment. They will also have pain in other parts of the body apart from their joints.
The cause of RA is still unknown although it has been identified as an autoimmune disease as those with the illness have an abnormal immune system. In a healthy immune system, white blood cells produce antibodies that protect the body against foreign substances. People who have RA have an immune system that mistakes the body’s healthy tissue for a foreign invader and attacks it. To raise awareness on RA, the Foundation’s website — www.afm.org.my — has been linked to the My Day For RA in Asia campaign website. My Day For RA is a patient empowerment programme that encourages patients to dedicate a day to learn about their condition and set goals to manage it. The programme was introduced in Europe last year. The Foundation is celebrating which include talks on RA, osteoarthritis and exercise for athritic patients. For details, call 03-5621 6177.