Estimates suggest that one in five people in the UAE are afflicted with arthritis. Image Credit: Supplied/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Rekha Sharma – an artist, sculptor and interior designer -was shocked to see her toes bend to one direction. Her legs were swollen and suffered acute pain.

For sometime, she thought it was an injury and it would become alright soon.

Her first symptoms showed up in 2015. Rekha was subsequently diagnosed with arthritis.

Speaking to Gulf News ahead of Ahead of World Arthritis Day on October 12, Rekha said, “In 2015, when my symptoms cropped up, I had no idea it was arthritis. My legs were completely swollen, and I was battling the pain.”

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Rekha Sharma, an Indian expat in UAE, was diagnosed with arthritis in 2015. Image Credit: Supplied

She later discovered she had rheumatoid arthritis. It initially affected her badly. “It changed my personality significantly. I became less social and talkative due to the constant pain. I was on four painkillers and steroids a day.”

Rekha recalled she could not hold a brush, get out of bed, or be as independent as she used to be. “My ego was hurt as I needed to ask for help often,” she said, adding inflammation is the most common symptom.

“My fingers were also totally bent, and my feet were getting deformed.”

Rekha said she has made significant dietary changes, eliminating gluten as much as possible. “I also use oils and massages to help with the pain. Medication is a crucial part of my routine, and I believe in following a strict regime.”

According to Dr. Khaled Diab, Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon, Neuro Spinal Hospital (NSH Dubai ), “Arthritis is an inflammatory process in different body joints. It is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints of the body.”

Dr. Khaled Diab

He said: “When inflammation occurs in joints, it destroys the cartilage and internal structures of the joints which finally leads to arthritic changes.”

‘Everything was painful’

Spanish expat Marcela Melo, 51, who also suffers from rheumathoid arthritis, said initially, her daily tasks suffered.

“Everything was painful. Even shaking hands, walking, stepping downstairs was an ordeal. I could not flex my arms and felt very tired during the day at all times.”

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Spanish expat Marcela Melo, 51, has made a number of dietary changes and has also received Ayurvedic treatment to manage her arthritis. Image Credit: Supplied

She said every day she fights to find alternatives to get better. A biker by passion, Marcela was worried the pain in her hands would end herbiking trips. But she said so far it has not as she finds ways and means to keep her hands free from pain.

She said she has made a number of dietary changes. “I take turmeric with black pepper infusions. Ginger is also part of my diet. I avoid alternative medicines like aspirins or others. When the pain got worse, I apply creams and hot packs.”

Marcela said she received Ayurvedic treatment in India for two weeks. “It did not cure me but I have to say that my body felt better. I also do yoga and feel my body more flexible.”

According to Dr Rowaida Hamdy Abdo, Consultant Rheumatology, NMC Specialty Hospital, Abu Dhabi, said, “Risk factors of arthritis include smoking, obesity and genetics. Arthritis is also more common in females.”

Dr Rowaida Hamdy Abdo

“I would like to emphasise on the role of early diagnosis. Proper management makes the prognosis better, reduces the symptoms and improves quality of life.”

Dr. Mohanad Qahwash, HOD, Consultant Orthopedic & Trauma Surgery, Canadian Specialist Hospital Dubai, said the best way to deal with the auto-immune disorder is to adopt a healthy diet. ”Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet by consuming foods like berries, leafy greens, fatty fish and turmeric to reduce arthritis risk. Include calcium-rich foods such as dairy, fortified plant-based options to support strong bones.

He said those inflicted with the disease should engage in regular low-impact exercises like swimming, cycling, and gentle yoga to improve joint flexibility and reduce stiffness. “Maintain a healthy weight to alleviate stress on joints, as excess body weight can worsen arthritis symptoms.”