If not treated, 60% of the patients will become disabled
“Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) can have tremendous impact not only to sufferers
but also for their families and the society at large.
Disability from RA causes a major economic impact,
thus the great need to raise awareness and educate the public, especially women.
- Dr. Huda Al Suwaidi, Family Medicine Consultant for the UAE Ministry of Health
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a disease that affects more women than men. And in the UAE, 19,500 women have it but are not aware that they do.
For this, the Ministry of Health and the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi supported the Women’s Initiative for Rheumatoid Arthritis (WIRA), an organization that seeks to spread awareness on rheumatoid arthritis. Patient groups, medical societies and private organizations alike have also backed the movement, such as the Emirates Arthritis Foundation, UAE Rheumatology Club, ENOC, Etisalat, Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA), Jeema and Abbott.
“Today, young working people need approximately Dh70,000 per year to cover the cost of medication for rheumatoid arthritis. Our latest research shows that people in the UAE who cannot afford care are 50% more likely to become disabled and, unfortunately, only 50% of the patients can afford their care,” revealed Dr. Cathy Leibman, Director of Operations at the Emirates Arthritis Foundation.
“There is also a delay of diagnosis of 13 months, and a delay of the start of treatment of 18 months. Of those having treatment, about 57% of the patients does not take it right. And if left untreated, 60% of the patients will become disabled. Obviously, there really is lack of awareness on rheumatoid arthritis,” she added.
A woman’s disease
Rheumatoid arthritis, which is commonly referred to as RA, is a disease of the immune system that attacks healthy tissues, damages joints, and causes disfigurement and disability. It usually occurs during the middle years and can happen to anyone – children or adults. However, the fact that it affects two- to three-fold times more women than men makes it generally a woman’s disease.
Betty Leanderson, Music Teacher at the Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls and 25-year RA patient and survivor testifies: “I was in my late thirties when I started to experience stiffness and aches and soreness in my joints very often. Then there came a day when I cannot even put my hands on the steering wheel to drive myself to the doctor. I also experienced difficulty wearing high-heeled shoes.”
“When I was first diagnosed, there was less awareness and effective treatment available for RA patients… RA is difficult to detect, especially in its early stages where the symptoms can be minimal and linked to common conditions, such as normal exhaustion and pain.”
Luckily, Leanderson has managed to stay positive all throughout. “I do not consider myself much as a victim of rheumatoid arthritis, but as a mature adult who happens to have rheumatoid arthritis. When I learned that I have RA, I started treatment, took my medicines, exercise, eat good food, take care of my health and listen to my body. I try to take care of myself the best way I could, and rest when I get tired. I do not feel sad. I do not want to be sad.”
“RA is a disease that you either get or do not. In my understanding, it is not something that triggers; it is there, so there is nothing necessary to prevent it from happening. But what you can do is make sure that you eat properly, exercise, take good care of your health, and consult a doctor once you feel stiff or sore or have aches in your joints. Patients need to be persistent, while doctors need to be honest. Knowledge is power, and the key to that knowledge is education.”
Presently, rheumatology departments in the UAE have advanced so much to the point that they can accurately detect where exactly rheumatoid arthritis can be found. The Ministry of Health has also accredited four types of medications for the disease. Meanwhile, the Emirates Arthritis Foundation, in its part, created awareness programs and support groups for RA patients, and an endowment fund for those who cannot afford RA treatments.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
· Redness, heat, swelling and pain (on a pair of joints)
· Prolonged morning stiffness (on a pair of joints)
· Decreased range of movement
· Weight Loss
How to Manage RA
(As advised by Dr. Walid Al Shehi, Consultant Rheumatologist)
· If there is stiffness for six weeks or more on a pair of joint, consult a rheumatologist.
· Avoid doctor shopping, or visiting one doctor and then another, because you might lose good treatment.
· Have regular blood tests, especially if you have the RA.
· Know more about your disease through research and Internet – it is the patient and the doctor that must be involved.
· Avoid taking medications prescribed to another patients; some have infections that you do not have.
· Avoid herbal remedies; some of it can destroy the liver and before you know it, you need a new liver.
· Remember: Diseases are part of your life, but do not make your life a disease.