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Arthritis relief ‘on the way’


REMISSION from rheumatoid arthritis is now possible if the debilitating disease is diagnosed and treated early, a conference has been told.

There are more than 100 types of arthritis and one in six Australians suffers some form of the disease, which costs the economy an estimated $19 billion a year.

But remission is now a reality and has become the new treatment goal, arthritis experts from Australia and overseas told the 50th anniversary meeting of the Australian Rheumatology Association in Sydney yesterday.

Association president Lyn March said people suffering persistent joint pain and swelling should see their doctor because help was available.

Professor March said a key factor in helping people achieve remission was the use of disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, known as DMARDS, which work by modifying or “turning off” the body’s immune response.

Professor March said arthritis could strike at any age, with at least two-thirds of sufferers under the age of 65.

“Medicine has advanced dramatically over the past decade, to the extent that if inflammatory arthritis is diagnosed early enough, remission is now possible,” she said. “But we only have a small window of opportunity to successfully treat people, and diagnosis in the first few years of disease onset is key.”

Association scientific program committee co-chairman Peter Youssef said that less than a decade ago arthritis experts would not have considered using the term remission.

“With today’s treatment approaches, achieving remission has become a reality for a considerable proportion of patients,” Professor Youssef told the meeting.

“We use a variety of tools to measure remission.

“Essentially, remission in terms of arthritis means the disappearance of symptoms of joint pain and swelling temporarily or permanently, and the normalisation of blood inflammatory tests.” The Federal Government declared arthritis a National Health Priority in 2002.

“The National Health Priority status was a good first step but arthritis still needs to receive greater public policy attention at the state and local health areas where the people are suffering,” Professor March said.

Early warning signs of arthritis include joint pain, tenderness, stiffness and muscle pain or weakness.

Other symptoms are a grinding sensation in the joints or the person’s loss of mobility. Rheumatologists from across Australia and overseas are attending the conference, which will end in Sydney tomorrow.

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