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Ten things you need to know about arthritis

Knowing as much as possible about the illness can help you take back control of your life, says Ailin Quinlan

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints which causes pain and immobility ranging from mild to severe, and, even though it affects 10 million people in the UK, we don't have a cure for it and can't prevent it. However, by understanding the condition and the healthy lifestyle practices which can help control or even alleviate some symptoms, respecting your medication regime can help. According to the experts, there are also things that you can do to break the cycle of pain and fatigue which is a hallmark of the condition - healthy eating, physical exercise and educating yourself can all help.

1. Children get arthritis

"The most common reaction we receive as paediatric rheumatologists is that people didn't know the disease exists in children," says Dr Emma MacDermott, a paediatric rheumatologist. Arthritis affects thousands of children in Northern Ireland, yet when we hear the word 'arthritis', we often think of adults, not children and teenagers. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) or juvenile arthritis (JA) is the name for a number of forms of arthritis in children and teenagers. Juvenile means the arthritis began before a child was 16 years old, idiopathic means there is no single cause and arthritis means that one or more of your child's joints are inflamed. Every year hundreds of children in the province are diagnosed with the condition.

2. There's no one particular diet which will help

"I always say to patients that we have forms of arthritis which are associated with gastro-intestinal problems such as coeliac disease," says Dr MacDermott. Coeliacs can have joint pain, and, in this case, maintaining a strict coeliac diet can help. However, she says, no particular diet will help. "People will say don't eat tomatoes, oranges or potatoes, but there's no evidence to show that including or excluding any particular food from the diet will help improve the condition."

3. Doesn't just affect the elderly

Although many people associate the condition with ageing, it's not a disease that is just linked with ageing or overuse of the muscles, says Dr MacDermott - in fact, the average age of diagnosis for rheumatoid arthritis is just 35.

4. Don't expect sympathy

Because people with arthritis often look just like anyone else, the full impact of the condition on the body tends to be extremely under-recognised and under-appreciated, despite the number of people here who are living with it. Dr MacDermott says children are sometimes expected to perform better in physical activities at school and this can have a huge effect on their psychological and social development.

5. Moving to a hot climate won't automatically improve the condition

Although there's plenty of anecdotal evidence about the relationship between arthritis symptoms and weather, it's believed that this is related to the fact that the body is simply registering changes in air pressure - and not predicting the arrival of rain.

6. Arthritis doesn't only cause problems for the joints

It can also adversely affect other parts of the body. "Some forms of arthritis can cause problems in organs such as the eyes, lung, heart or blood vessels because these particular conditions are caused by inflammation. "This inflammation is caused by an over-active immune system," says Dr MacDermott.

7. Arthritis is the single biggest cause of disability in northern ireland

It accounts for one in three GP visits and, as part of the musculoskeletal group of diseases (MSDs), costs the NHS tens of millions every year in lost working hours and forced retirements, according to arthritis charities. There are many types of arthritis, but the most common forms in adults are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

8. Yes, you can help yourself

Arthritis can change your life for the worse, but there's a lot you can do about it. Working with a multi-disciplinary team, being compliant with your medication and developing a lifestyle and medication programme that works for you can allow you to lead a full healthy and productive life. Local arthritis charities and support groups, such as Arthritis Care Northern Ireland may be able to help with self-management programmes and offer a free helpline service.

9. You can and should exercise with arthritis

Some of the most common myths in relation to arthritis are that exercise will increase pain and cause damage to the joints. In fact, according to arthritis groups, staying physically active is the most important thing that you can do to help your arthritis. "Physical activity is proven to be an important part of managing your arthritis. As well as reducing the pain and inflammation of arthritis, being active and exercising regularly improves joint support and lubrication, helps with weight control and has many other health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and stroke risk. "

10. Arthritis, especially auto-immune arthritis, tends to affect women more than men

According to experts, this holds true both in adults and children, although a few forms of arthritis such as Ankylosing Spondylitis are much more common in young men.

  • For further information, please contact Arthritis Care Northern Ireland free confidential helpline on 0808 800 4050. Visit

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