Rheumatoid Arthritis Needs Timely Treatment
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most commonly detected disorders among aging women. It starts with the stiffening of the fingers and develops into difficulties in moving in general because the knees and other jointed body parts become stiff.
The Korean Rheumatism Association believes more than 500,000 people suffer from the disease and there are more with the potential to develop it.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic inflammation disorder, where the human body mistakenly takes its own cells as foreign bodies and attacks them. This disregulation breaks down the immune system and causes inflammation mainly in the joints and bones.
Unlike degenerative joint diseases common in aging that leads to the wear and tear of the joints, rheumatoid arthritis prevails among younger generations too. Professor Bae Sang-cheol of Hanyang University Medical Center said he has seen five and six year-olds diagnosed with the disease.
"The genetic factor is by far the most convincing reason for its prevalence. Smoking and pollution are also suggested as environmental factors. Young patients usually inherit the gene from their parents," he said.
Women are more likely to suffer from the disease and Bae assumes that their hormonal change attributes to it. "Estrogen sometimes plays tricks. In our hospital, the number of female patients is eight times higher than that of males," he said.
When diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, medication to control the inflammation is considered first. Steroids and other agents or ointments are used too.
These days, target molecular therapy, which attacks the affected parts for treatment, are widely used and are marking good results. "The only thing to bear in mind that is you need to use it regularly. Rheumatoid arthritis is quite controllable to a certain level, if patients take appropriate treatment at the right time," Bae said.
However, if the symptoms are too far advanced, surgery to restore the joints is needed. "Doctors usually only perform knee joint surgery. However, this type of arthritis spreads to other organs and body parts, so surgery isn't the best solution" he said.
Bae said the global trend in treatment is moving to screening risk factors and dealing with them in advance. "However, since we are not really sure what the real cause is, it is hard to verify the risk factors," he said. "It will take time."
In the meantime, he is focusing on providing personalized treatment to individual patients. "Everyone has a different reaction to different medicines. If we do not put that into consideration, we will never be able to help a person recover fully," he said.
Bae said Korea's overall clinical level when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis is quite high among the international medical field. But he admitted that its basic research is lagging behind. "We all need to focus more on conducting the right basic research and adapting it to the clinical level," he said.
"As we are moving toward an aging society, the problem of rheumatism will become more important than ever because it is linked directly to moving and moreover, quality of life," he said.