Early diagnosis is the key to tackling arthritis, UAE experts say

Arthritis said to affect one in five people in the Emirates

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An early diagnosis is key to ensuring a higher quality of life for those suffering from arthritis, leading medical experts have said.

The condition, which is often regarded as an invisible disease, can cause serious mental and physical anguish for those living with it.

However, early detection can help manage the condition allowing those with arthritis to lead a fulfilling life.

The National spoke to medical experts and people diagnosed with the disease, which causes swelling and tenderness in one or more joint, about how life can be affected by arthritis.

One of the main ways I manage my condition now is with my diet
Shama Khan, Dubai resident

“Most of the damage that is caused to the joints happens in the first two or three years,” said Dr Ghita Harifi, a consultant rheumatologist and a member of the Middle East Arthritis Foundation.

“There is a window of opportunity to treat arthritis. We need to get that early diagnosis so we can treat patients when it’s at the inflammatory stage.”

The disease affects one in five people in the UAE, including children, said Dr Harifi, who was speaking before World Arthritis Day on October 12.

People with arthritis tend to have lower life expectancy than the general population, she said.

Globally, 60 per cent of people suffering from arthritis are aged between 18 and 64.

The World Health Organisation estimated there are up to 14 million people worldwide with rheumatoid arthritis.

Exercise and remain active

One Dubai resident who was recently diagnosed with arthritis was PE teacher Dale Rooney, 30, from Hull in northern England.

“I started noticing the symptoms when I was about 24 but it was in the last two years that I started to really feel my body deteriorating a lot,” said Mr Rooney, who was diagnosed in January.

“I used to play rugby a lot but had to stop earlier this year. The worst thing is the fear that comes with it.

“I am worried that my body is going to deteriorate more in the future.”

Since being diagnosed, Mr Rooney has been receiving medication which has helped him to manage his condition.

Exercising and remaining active have also played a huge role in allowing him to cope with the disease.

“I’ve started walking more, as well and going to the gym, and I find that has helped immensely,” he said.

“I can’t go 'hell for leather' any more, but I find I feel twice as good when I am exercising and active.

“I feel rusty when I wake up but if I exercise, I feel much better — both physically and mentally.”

Another Dubai resident who has learnt to live with arthritis is Shama Khan, 61, a former lecturer from Chennai in eastern India.

“I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1995. I was limping along and living with the increased pain threshold until around 2008 when I was introduced to a doctor who offered a new course of treatment,” she said.

“One of the main ways I manage my condition now is with my diet. I have gone completely vegan and do a lot of meditation and yoga, which has helped dramatically.

“I can still do my daily chores and go for walks, if I feel the pain increasing then I adjust my routine accordingly.”

One Dubai-based doctor said part of the issue around arthritis awareness is it does not have the same high profile as other conditions that are less common.

“It affects so many people, from a young age upwards, but it isn’t discussed as openly as other diseases,” said Dr Nasr Al Jafari, a family medicine consultant who specialises in gut health.

“It can be extremely painful and incapacitate people from carrying out their daily lives.”

A person’s lifestyle and diet could play a major part in treating the symptoms, he added.

“It’s important to minimise the factors that cause stress to a body,” he said.

“That includes getting seven and a half to nine hours of sleep each night and reducing the amount of processed foods you eat.

“It’s not practical to just eat locally produced food and only drinking spring water, but it is possible to find a compromise to reduce how vulnerable your immune system is.”

Updated: October 11, 2022, 3:45 AM