Children are too at risk of getting Rheumatoid Arthritis: Experts

Rheumatoid Arthritis is often considered a problem of adults but experts say even children are at risk of being affected.

This was among the issues that came up for discussion at the two-day Rheumatology conference held at the KIMS Hospitals, Secunderabad here.

“Rheumatology is not understood even by the general public. Children cannot express themselves well regarding these issues. But there is a good chance that they also can get arthritis. Stiffness in the hands and legs, long fever, and decreased eyesight are some of the symptoms which should be taken care of. Parents should take their children to a rheumatologist and get evaluated,” said Dr Suma Balan, a paediatric rheumatologist.

According to Dr Rajkiran Dudam, senior rheumatologist, other parts in the body also get affected due to this problem.

“Timely treatment is a must. It starts like common arthritis, but slowly affects skin, eyes, lungs, and heart. Sometimes it may become fatal too. April is rheumatology awareness month. If the diagnosis is late like 6 months to one year, other organs will be damaged. By the time they come to a rheumatologist, they can’t revive the other organs that are damaged. So, early detection of problems is the most important aspect. This is an autoimmune disease. It starts slowly, but rises gradually.”

Dr V. Sarath Chandra Mouli, Clinical Director, Department of Clinical Immunology & Rheumatology, KIMS Hospitals, who was instrumental in organizing the conference noted that many changes have come in the treatment of these problems during the last two decades.

According to him, patients can lead a normal life post-treatment. They can pursue studies, do jobs, marry and can do anything.

The country has a very low number of rheumatology specialists.

“Nearly 20,000 doctors are needed as per our population, but only around 800 are available to date. More training centres are needed. No single medical college in Andhra Pradesh has a rheumatology centre. Governments should come forward and open such centres. Some post-Covid issues are also there. Vaccines are also affecting some people with rheumatology issues, but it is very rare. There is a myth that steroids usage in rheumatology suppresses the immune system, and they get other problems but it is not true. Patients suffering from rheumatology issues have the same level of risk as the general public.”

Dr B.G. Dharmanand, Sr. Consultant, Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru, and President, Indian Rheumatology Association, said that women are more prone to rheumatology related issues like arthritis, SLE and others.

“These are problematic both to the patients and their family members. Patients with rheumatological diseases can also get Covid. But, most of the patients are not at risk of severe Covid. There is a small chance that Covid can worsen autoimmune diseases. Post covid, some are suffering from tiredness, and body pains for a long time. Very few can develop rheumatological diseases,” he said.

“There are more than 200 rheumatology diseases. This is a relatively new speciality in India. There is no adequate awareness even among some non-rheumatology doctors too. There is a misconception that most rheumatology diseases have no cure. A lot of research has been done in the last 20 years. Very very effective treatment has come in rheumatology . We are planning to have conferences , public awareness programs to educate the public about this problem.”

Dr B. Bhaskar Rao, Managing Director, KIMS Hospitals, Prof. Amita Aggarwal, Professor and Head of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute, Lucknow, Prof. Aman Sharma, Department of Clinical Immunology & Rheumatology, PGIMER, Chandigarh, and some other distinguished doctors from across the country have participated in the conference and shared their opinions.

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