The 45-year-old woman hobbled her way to Laud Clinic in Dadar, north central Mumbai , the pain in her knees making the walk a Herculean task. For a long time, the woman, a banker by profession, had dismissed the festering pain in her joints as the result of daily wear and tear. It was only when she was practically rendered immobile that she made an appointment with Laud, which focuses on joint replacement therapy and surgeries.
It took only a short consultation with one of the founders of the clinic, Dr Harish S. Bhende, for the problem to be diagnosed. She had rheumatoid arthritis, the result of long hours at office, a poor diet and inadequate exercise.
Arthritis is not only an ailment of the aged. Dr Bhende says half his patients are in the age group of 40 to 50, and most are women. While osteo arthritis is age-related indeed, the rise of other kinds of arthritis such as rheumatoid is ringing alarm bells.
- Incidence of arthritis is rising among 40-50 year olds
- Poor diet and lack of exercise are largely responsible
- More women are affected than men
- Persistent joint pains should never be ignored
- Monitoring needs to start from childhood
- Recent medical advances offer more treatment options
"We have people who can barely walk 50 metres. Some have even given up jobs because they cannot bear the pain of travelling back and forth," says Dr Bhende. What makes it worse, say other doctors, is that people tend to dismiss typical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis as signs of fatigue or a oneoff stress injury. "We can treat early rheumatoid arthritis with medication, but if it progresses too far we need to operate," warns Dr Bhende.
With increasing responsibilities at the workplace and at home, people have less time to devote to the kind of food they eat and to exercise sufficiently, which is responsible for the growing incidence of arthritis at a young age. The increasing obesity of India's working population will only further increase the incidence of arthritis, adds Dr Bhende.
While there are two or three common forms of arthritis, doctors say they actually have to deal with a 100 different variants, and the working population across the world is affected. In the United States, for example, arthritis is now second only to heart disease as a cause of workrelated disability. It is also the leading cause of disability for people over 35. These trends are expected to be mirrored in India, which is already the diabetes capital of the world and also has a rapidly rising number of cardiac patients.
Doctors feel more attention needs to be paid to arthritis. Monitoring should start from childhood and obese children should be put on a diet to bring their weight under control. "Ninety per cent of the time arthritis can be fixed with exercise, medication and a better lifestyle," says Dr Bhende. "It is only when it gets worse that we need to consider surgery."
The good news is that medical advances also allow partial replacement of joints, cartilage replacement and has also formulated aggressive medicines which can rapidly control swelling of joints, and worsening of the ailment. But, nothing like a little care and a healthier lifestyle that will ensure arthritis will not cripple your lifestyle.