Dubai: Close to one per cent of arthritis patients in the UAE suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, experts said on Tuesday citing a recent study.

More than 20 per cent of the UAE population suffers from some kind of arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive autoimmune disease that causes severe pain and swelling and deformity in the joints of the fingers, wrists, feet and ankles. While a genetic condition is inevitable the onset of rheumatoid arthritis and its management can help a patient have a good quality of life, doctors said.

Dr Ghita Harifi

Talking to Gulf News ahead of World Arthritis Day on October 12, Dr Ghita Harifi, a Dubai-based rheumatologist, said: “We have two kinds of arthritis — inflammatory and degenerative. While the degenerative type occurs due to ageing and can be managed with weight reduction and lifestyle changes, the inflammatory variety is really worrying as it is mostly autoimmune.”

Dr Humeira Badshah

Dr Humeira Badshah, founder of the Emirates Arthritis Foundation, told Gulf News: “There are 150 varieties of inflammatory arthritis such as the juvenile form that can occur as young as age two or even earlier, and in teenagers and the more common form called rheumatoid arthritis that young adults can suffer from.“

However, both doctors agreed that early intervention in the case of inflammatory arthritis, correct diagnosis using diagnostic tools such as X-rays, blood tests, and ultrasound could show the early onset of inflammation and actually help in stopping the evolution of the disease and reverse damage in the early stages.

“A patient must not ignore joint pain with swelling and stiffness and immediately consult a rheumatologist,“ said Dr Badshah.

“It is difficult to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis but with the help of clinical examination, blood tests, X-rays and ultrasounds we do make a correct diagnosis and put patients on immune-suppressive therapies to control the pain and inflammation,” said Dr Harifi.

While it is not possible to cure arthritis, early diagnosis and treatment, lifestyle tweaks and elimination of environmental triggers can be of great help.

Dr Harifi said: ‘There is enough clinical evidence to suggest that smoking or passive smoking is one of the strongest environmental triggers which can start the onset or aggravate the condition. There are many other things in the diet and lifestyle which can help but there are not enough evidence-based studies to support that.”

To create better awareness, the Emirates Arthritis Foundation, which has over 3,000 members, is planning to introduce ‘Walk with Ease’ programme to encourage regular, low grade physical activity for arthritic patients, telling them the correct technique to walk and encouraging them to adapt regular physical activity in their lives.


What you can do

1. Do not ignore joint pain, swelling and stiffness. Immediately consult a rheumatologist and undergo screening

2. Start immunosuppressive treatment to stop inflammation

3. Start walking, yoga or work out regularly

4. Have a nutritionally balanced diet rich in natural probiotics which include fermented foods such as khimchi, kefir and yoghurt to encourage the build of healthy gut flora

5. Eliminate smoking

6. Cut back on processed foods, transfats, chemical additives and sugar which can be environmental triggers

7. Get your air conditioning ducts cleaned to avoid build-up of moulds

8. Vitamin D deficiency is also a trigger so get tested and replenish your levels

9. Have Omega 3-rich foods or supplements that can help synthesise Vitamin D

10. Join a support group that can update you constantly on new medial advancements in treatment of arthritis and also help keep your morale high in management of the condition.