There are just ten days to go until World Arthritis Day, which takes place every year on October 12th. People and communities around the world will be uniting to celebrate World Arthritis Day – helping to place the spotlight on rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs).
World Arthritis Day (WAD for short) is a global awareness-raising day, which in 2019, is part of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) ‘Don’t Delay, Connect Today’ campaign focus ‘Time2Work’.
Don’t Delay, Connect Today
‘Don’t Delay, Connect Today’ is a Europe-wide and locally-implemented campaign that calls on people – including the public, physicians, health professionals and policy makers – to connect early for earlier diagnosis of rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs) and timely access to evidence-based treatment. The overall goal is to highlight RMDs as major diseases and a public health concern of pandemic proportions and that early diagnosis and timely access to treatment can prevent further damage and burden on the individual and society.
To help break down the barriers that delay early diagnosis, the integrated campaign activity connects everyone working in RMDs, from patient groups to physician and health professional associations. Connecting together and communicating one united message, at a European and local level, provides a strong platform to impress change.
Affecting one quarter of the EU population (120 million), RMDs are the biggest cause of sick leave and premature retirement due to physical disability. As one of the main causes of physical disability, RMDs contribute considerably to loss of productivity in the workplace. Work (defined as paid and voluntary employment but can also incorporate work in the home and caring for a family) is an important part of life, not only for the financial gain it can bring but also for the psychological benefits it provides. Keeping people with RMDs in work not only benefits individuals, but also the whole of society.
Time2Work is part of the ‘Don’t Delay, Connect Today’ campaign which is committed to raising awareness of the importance of early diagnosis of RMDs. Early diagnosis, early referral to a rheumatologist and early access to effective treatments are known to improve outcomes, quality of life and the ability to work. In addition to physicians, health professionals in rheumatology (HPRs), such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists have a key role in helping people with RMDs access and remain in work. Other key audiences for Time2Work include employers, trades unions and policy makers.
As well as helping people with RMDs access work for the first time, remain in work when they develop an RMD, or return to work after rehabilitation, Time2Work promotes the adoption of other initiatives that not only help people with RMDs, but all workers. These include universal designs, such as adjustable desks and chairs which can also help prevent RMDs caused by stress on joints, and flexible working hours. These are often simple and inexpensive to implement, but could have a significant impact.
In the European Union alone, an extra one million employees could be in work each day if early interventions were more widely accessible for people with RMDs.European League Against Rheumatism
Time2Work also extends to children and young people with RMDs in education – who must never be forgotten, and have their own unique challenges. The same principles, however, apply, such as ensuring that children and young people with RMDs are supported while they are in school or university, and also have the necessary help in place when they are transitioning between home, the hospital, and their educational environment. Many measures are often simple and inexpensive to implement, such as a named school contact, additional provision during exams, rest breaks, ergonomic equipment, and so on.
But you may be thinking, what actually are RMDs?
Rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs for short) are now broadly recognised as one of the most challenging chronic conditions around the world, affecting a quarter of all people in Europe – that’s more than 120 million people. RMDs 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 tend to affect more women; while spondyloarthropathies, such as ankylosing spondylitis, and gout tend to be more common in men.
People with RMDs often receive delayed or no diagnosis at all, leaving people at the hands of these painful and damaging conditions. Early diagnosis is key to preventing further damage, so that appropriate treatment can be given in a timely manner. The challenge in receiving a diagnosis is often due to a lack of awareness, reducing peoples’ quality of life.
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 can also play a role in the development of some 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/or joint pain;
- 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. Symptoms should be assessed by a healthcare professional, preferably a specialist rheumatologist, as soon 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 can help manage pain, as well as controlling RMD symptoms. Clinical remission, where the symptoms appear to cease, is an increasing possibility, thanks to newer treatments targeting the underlying disease processes.
Anxiety and depression in those with RMDs is about twice that seen in the general population, and often slips under the radar of healthcare professionals. Therefore, it’s important for people with RMDs to tell healthcare professionals how they are feeling, as psychological support can be extremely beneficial to help people cope with their condition, and the impact it has on their life.
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. These self-management skills have been identified as being crucial for emotional and physical wellbeing. This technique, combined with support from local support groups and patient organisations can help people manage their RMD, helping them to live their lives to their full.
So on World Arthritis Day, join in on raising awareness of these conditions, which can truly have a devastating impact on the lives of so many people. Whether you share a post on social media, talk to your neighbour about RMDs, or decide to fundraise for one of the many wonderful charities supporting people around the world, please do your bit. Every single act will make a difference!
Add your voice on social media
Don’t forget to include hashtags on your social media posts:
The European League against Rheumatism (EULAR) is the European umbrella organisation representing scientific societies, health professional associations and organisations for people with RMDs. EULAR aims to reduce the burden of RMDs on individuals and society and to improve the treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of RMDs. To this end, EULAR fosters excellence in education and research in the field of rheumatology. It promotes the translation of research advances into daily care and fights for the recognition of the needs of people with RMDs by the EU institutions through advocacy action.