Help's at hand for those with joint pain

For three years, Ms Pang Cheng Li could hardly get out of bed - her ankles and knees were swollen stiff due to rheumatoid arthritis.

"The pain was unbearable. Even in the shower, I could not stand and had to sit on a stool," the 43-year-old said.

The symptoms started showing when she was just 27 years old and a newlywed, and they surfaced without warning. Said Ms Pang: "One day, I just woke up and found my ankles red and swollen".

At first, she thought the symptoms would go away, but they soon worsened and she eventually sought treatment.

Some 45,000 people here, or 1 per cent of the population, suffer from this condition.

Those plagued by this chronic inflammatory disorder - which typically strikes those in their 40s - suffer joint stiffness, pain, swelling, and even organ damage in 10 per cent of cases.

It is treated with steroids, painkillers or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

The latest to be approved for general use is the steroid Lodotra, which has a timed release. It can be purchased with a prescription later this month. Side effects include loss of calcium and increased sugar levels, which are common in steroid use.

Those with the condition often delay treatment by at least six months.

Said Dr Yoon Kam Hon, a rheumatologist who runs a private practice at the Arthritis & Rheumatism Specialist Medical Centre: "There's a myth that nothing can be done and to just live with the pain, and go for an operation when it gets worse."

Often, these patients' joints are found to be crooked and brittle by the time they see a doctor.

Dr Yoon added that many doctors still prescribe only painkillers, without treating the actual condition.

"People used to think rheumatoid arthritis is a lifelong disease that cannot be cured, but if you are treated early, it can go into long-term remission," he said.

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