HAYES IN THE HOUSE: Crucial that Government works with NHS to raise awareness of rheumatoid arthritis
Life is full of challenges. Complicated health problems can leave us feeling anxious, alone and afraid, as bodies seem to go to war with themselves.
Sore, inflamed and painful joints can make living difficult. For those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), such symptoms can be debilitating. Unlike osteoarthritis, the condition is an autoimmune disease, which, if not treated adequately, can lead to irreversibly damaged joints.
Whilst relatively little is known about initial triggers, the development of the illness produces an aggressive reaction in the immune system, causing the body to attack the synovial lining of joints, resulting in serious inflammation, which, in turn, leads to pain and stiffness. I know because my mother was a sufferer in her last years.
However, contrary to common misunderstanding, rheumatoid arthritis is not restricted to later life. Affecting 400,000 people in the United Kingdom, early-onset RA has been diagnosed in children as young as 14.
At a Parliamentary reception hosted by Verses Arthritis this week, it was made clear just how many of those involved in treatment and prevention acknowledge that accurate identification of RA can be extremely difficult. Indeed, many people initially explain away symptoms as routine overexertion – overdoing it in the gym, at work, or in the playground with the children. Similarly, when presented with a patient complaining of painful joints, a GP must consider a wide array of possible explanations. The absence of a single test to diagnose the disease, coupled with the fact that symptoms often come and go, means that thousands struggle for years without diagnosis.
Research has demonstrated the pivotal importance of beginning early, intensive treatment for inflammatory arthritis - preferably within 12 weeks of its onset. That’s why it is crucial that the Government commits to working with our National Health Service to raise awareness, enabling as many people as possible to access quickly the help they need.
There are numerous, encouraging initiatives providing hope to those that suffer. The importance of exercise designed to strengthen muscles, whilst increasing flexibility, cannot be overstated. Yet another reason why sporting facilities and exercise classes should be available in towns and villages. Similarly, increased investment in physical therapy programmes would provide invaluable, tailored support, rebuilding confidence and improving lives.
Countering the culture of endless convenient over-consumption can go some way to altering diets dominated by processed fast food linked to inflammation of joints, as well as numerous other serious health conditions.
Employers too can play a part, by being ready to accommodate those amongst their staff suffering from RA. Evidence shows the importance of regular breaks from strenuous activity, reducing the inflammation and fatigue that result from a flare up.
As with most autoimmune diseases, many sufferers from Rheumatoid Arthritis may never completely overcome their struggle with the illness. Nevertheless, the care of family and friends and the understanding of workmates can make a huge difference. Knowing how fragile our bodies are is as important as knowing that they are precious.