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Joint action – Arthritis Awareness Month

23 May 2023

Arthritis can happen to anyone at any age. It is a prevalent health concern worldwide, including in Oman. And the month of May is observed as Arthritis Awareness Month to raise awareness about this condition.

If you find it difficult to hold onto your morning coffee mug for long or find it extremely painful when getting up from a chair, or notice a redness/swelling in any of your joints that lasts more than a day, you could be suffering from arthritis, a degenerative condition that affects millions worldwide every year.

In Oman, various organisations, healthcare professionals, and advocacy groups come together to spread awareness through informative campaigns, events, and fundraisers. These initiatives aim to promote early diagnosis, provide resources and support, advocate for research, and improve access to quality care.

Arthritis prevalence and statistics

According to Ministry of Health, the prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis in Oman was 8.4 per thousand adults. About 1 in 4 adults (23.7%) have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Arthritis is more common in women (23.5%) compared with men (18.1%), more common among adults with fair/poor health (40.5%) compared with those who have excellent/very good health (15.4%), and less common among adults who meet physical activity recommendations (18.1%) compared with adults who are insufficiently active or inactive (23.1% and 23.6%, respectively). 

Dr Biswajit Dutta Baruah, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at KIMS Oman hospital, said that the most common type of arthritis in Oman is osteoarthritis, which is often associated with aging and ‘wear and tear’ of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common, followed by gouty and psoriatic arthritis, with differential symptoms, he said.

Dr Biswajit believes that arthritis can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. “It can make it difficult to perform daily activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, and getting dressed. Arthritis can also lead to depression, anxiety, and social isolation.”

Dr Akshay, specialist orthopaedic surgeon at Apollo Hospital, explained, “Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, although it most commonly affects joints in the spine, hands, hips and knees. Most people consider osteoarthritis to be inevitable during one’s lifetime, but proper clinical management and treatment can help stall, if not reverse, the impact of this deteriorating condition.”

“The most common symptoms of arthritis are grating or cracking sensation on movement, exaggerated pain in winter season, overall loss in flexibility, not able to sit cross legs, difficulty in forward bending and generalised swelling,” he added.

Dr Kalyan Srungavarapu, orthopaedic surgeon at Aster Royal hospital, said, “Although osteoarthritis is more common in older people, many young people in their teens, 20s and 30s can still suffer with the condition.”

“Being overweight, poor posture, leading a sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, joint injury or having a family history are the main causes of osteoarthritis in young people,” Dr Kalyan explained.

Treatment options

Dr Ranjan Babu, specialistorthopaedician at Badr Al Samaa Hospital, said that there is no cure for arthritis but there are treatments to manage the condition. “Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and physical therapy can help to improve joint function, reduce pain, and increase strength and flexibility. Sometimes corticosteroid injections directly into the affected joint can provide short-term pain relief and reduce inflammation.”

Dietary changes

Dr Biswajit suggests to avoid processed food, red meat, caffeine, sugar, and alcohol as it can worsen arthritis symptoms. “Diet plays an important role in alleviating symptoms but there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ diet for arthritis. Some of the best foods for arthritis are whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables. Also, Omega-3 fatty acids which are healthy fats found in fish have anti-inflammatory properties.”

Dr Ranjan adds, “Dietary changes may not cure arthritis or replace medical treatments but they can help managing inflammation, reducing pain, and improving overall joint health.”

Self care is the best care

According to Dr Baruah, self care is an important part of managing arthritis. Adopt a healthy lifestyle and listen to your body, he says. But,

Dr Ranjan believes that prevention is better than cure.

“Arthritis can be avoided by maintaining a healthy weight. Excess weight puts additional stress on the joints, particularly the weight-bearing joints like the hips, knees, and ankles. Also, regular physical activity helps keep the joints flexible, strengthens the muscles around the joints, and improves overall joint function,” Dr Ranjan says, adding, “Low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, and cycling can be gentle on the joints while providing numerous benefits.”

Exercise is the key

Dr Kalyan believes that it is important to find the right type of exercise for your body. He suggested three types of exercises that combine to make up a good fitness programme. “First is the range of movement which helps to improve strength and flexibility and promotes good posture; try swimming, tai chi and golf. Second is strengthening — this will help build the muscles, which in turn provide better support for your joints; try weight training. Third is aerobic — this raises your heartbeat, which helps to improve your level of fitness by strengthening your heart; some of the best forms of aerobic exercise are brisk walking, cycling and tennis.”

Dr Kalyan urges people with osteoarthritis to engage in moderate exercise programs because excessive exercise might cause further pain and joint degeneration.

Hospital awareness campaigns

Dr Biswajit stated, “KIMS Oman Hospital runs a campaign to raise awareness about arthritis in the month of May. The campaign is aimed to  raise awareness about arthritis and help people understand the condition so that they can get the help they need. The hospital believes that everyone deserves to live a healthy and active life, regardless of their health condition.”

Dr Ranjan disclosed that they also share patient stories and testimonials through social media to create an impactful awareness. “People will be able to connect better and understand the impact of arthritis by learning about others. And Badr Al Samaa Group of Hospitals have one-on-one counselling sessions with the patients who are at risk. We have also introduced discounted screening packages to encourage people for preventive health screening,” he added.

Dr Akshay also stated that Apollo Hospitals organise campaigns and screening for arthritis during the winter months when arthritis is much more prevalent.

(Contributed by Deeba Parween)

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