x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Arthritis patients in Emirates suffer from late diagnosis

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis in the UAE are diagnosed a year later than those in other parts of the world.

DUBAI // Patients with rheumatoid arthritis in the UAE are diagnosed a year later than those in other parts of the world, while far fewer of them reach remission, a study has found. The study, which examined 5,848 people in 24 countries, was published in Arthritis and Rheumatism Journal. It found that UAE patients took an average of 18 months to diagnose, compared with six months in most western countries.

The study also found that just 18 per cent of sufferers in the UAE achieved remission, compared with between 36 per cent and 40 per cent in western countries. And just five per cent of patients are taking the medication needed to put the illness into remission, compared to 40 per cent in the US, said Dr Humeira Badsha, who was a principal investigator on the study in the UAE. The main problems were a lack of awareness about the disease and ways to treat it, as well as too few specialists, she said.

"People often get diagnosed very late here... it is a lack of awareness and a lack of rheumatologists." Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, systemic disorder that causes the immune system to attack the joints, causing them to become swollen and inflamed. It can also affect some organs, such as the lungs and skin. Symptoms of the illness include red, swollen joints that are warm to the touch, joint pain and stiffness and loss of joint function.

Dr Badsha, who works as a specialist rheumatologist at the Dubai Bone and Joint Centre, said another problem was when patients sought help from a family doctor, and did not receive the right tests to detect the disease. She said they need to see rheumatologists, who are experts in the disease and are typically responsible for diagnosis and long-term management. Another problem is the cost of medications. Dr Badsha said the best chance of disease remission was through a combination of medications, including new biological drugs, some of which are very costly.

"Insurance companies cover this treatment in only 50 per cent of cases," she said. munderwood@thenational.ae