It’s in your hands, take action!

Today is no ordinary day. Every year, on 12th October, people from across the globe come together to celebrate World Arthritis Day. Although it seems contradictory to celebrate the fact that we have to live with chronic health conditions every day, I see this day as an important opportunity to talk, raise awareness amongst the general public, and contribute to a better world for people living with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases.

The theme for 2016 is ‘It’s in your hands, take action‘. Throughout 2016, people have been sharing their story of how they live with their conditions, and enjoy life to the full. Today, the World Arthritis Day campaign launch a video montage to celebrate people living with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. There’s also events taking place around the world to celebrate World Arthritis Day. To find out more, and to get involved yourself, please visit www.worldarthritisday.org.

Rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs) affect a quarter of all people in the European Union – that’s over 120 million people. In easier to understand terms, almost every family in Europe is affected by RMDs in some way. In industrialised countries, RMDs affect more individuals than any other disease group. RMDs also affect both men and women of all ages, including children and young people. However, some RMDs are more common amongst certain populations. For example, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, fibromyalgia and lupus predominantly affect women. Spondyloarthropathies, such as ankylosing spondylitis, and gout tend to be more common in men.

RMDs place a huge burden on society, particularly when they are poorly managed. RMDs are the biggest cause of sick leave and premature retirement worldwide,
and have a significant economic impact on healthcare systems. In Europe, public spending totals over €200 billion per year for people with RMDs. They are the most expensive diseases for the European health and socio-economic systems. In addition, decreased productivity and absence from work as a result of RMDs contributes significantly to these costs.

What causes RMDs to develop?
In some cases, RMDs can be inherited; however, a family history of RMDs does not mean you will inevitably develop an RMD. Lifestyle factors also play a key role in the development of RMDs, such as smoking, excessive weight, a sedentary lifestyle, increasing age and having occupations that lead to injury and overuse of joints and muscles. However in some cases, the causes are unknown.

Know the symptoms and act early
Knowing the symptoms and talking to a healthcare professional is the first step in managing any disease. RMDs are associated with a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Inflammation indicated by joint swelling, stiffness, redness, and/or warmth;
  • Persistent muscle and joint pain;
  • Tenderness;
  • Extreme fatigue, lack of energy and feeling weak;
  • Stiffness and restricted range in movement or flexibility;
  • Joint deformity;
  • Symptoms affecting the internal organs;
  • Invisible symptoms, for example, depression and anxiety.

Achieving a rapid diagnosis is more likely to improve long-term outcomes
Quick action upon presentation of RMD symptoms is vital and symptoms should be assessed by a health professional, preferably a specialist rheumatologist, as early as possible to access appropriate treatment. Early medical treatment of inflammatory RMDs, particularly in the first 12 weeks, can prevent joint and organ damage, improving long-term outcomes, and the likelihood of achieving disease remission. Treatment choices should be a shared decision, made between the healthcare professional, the person with the condition and their family.

Treating and managing RMDs
Treatment for RMDs typically focuses on managing the condition to ensure the best possible quality of life. There is no single medication or treatment that works for everyone. However, there are treatments, including medication, that help manage pain and control RMD symptoms. Clinical remission, where the symptoms appear to cease, is increasingly being made possible, thanks to new medications targeting the underlying disease processes.

Clinical anxiety and depression in those with RMDs is about twice that seen in the general population, and often slips under the radar of health professionals. Therefore, it’s important for people with RMDs to tell health professionals how they are feeling, as psychological support can be extremely beneficial to help people cope with their condition.

In addition, self-management is an essential part of managing RMDs and can be life-changing. For people with RMDs, self-management means taking control of living with an RMD, encouraging an attitude whereby they accept the condition affects them but does not control them. This self-management skill is identified as being crucial for emotional and physical wellbeing. This technique, combined with support from local patient groups and organisations can help people manage their RMD, and live life to the full.

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