That only older people experience rheumatoid arthritis is a misconception, as it often starts to develop in people aged 30 to 50, and is sometimes mistaken for De Quervain tenosynovitis, tendinitis or carpal tunnel syndrome in its early stages, the Rheumatoid Arthritis Aid Group (RAAG) said yesterday.
A 42-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis, surnamed Chen (陳), said she was in a car accident in her 20s and experienced tendinitis after she recovered, which she thought was related to her injury.
However, the condition continued even after she took anti-inflammatory drugs for more than six months, she said.
Photo courtesy of the Rheumatoid Arthritis Aid Group
“At the time, I wondered how I could get rheumatoid arthritis when I’m still so young,” Chen told a news conference at the RAAG in Taipei.
After she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the pain in her hands affected her career and she had to give up her dream of opening a bakery because she could no longer knead dough or whisk eggs, she said.
When rheumatoid arthritis flares up, there is intense pain and stiffness in the joints, which make it difficult to move or even fall asleep, she said, adding that some elderly people have scolded her for sitting on priority seats on public transport, mistaking her for being lazy.
There are about 100,000 people with rheumatoid arthritis in Taiwan, and the onset usually occurs in people aged 30 to 50, Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital physician Tsai Yun-chen (蔡昀臻) said.
However, it is often mistaken for other occupational injuries, such as De Quervain tenosynovitis, tendinitis or carpal tunnel syndrome in its early stages, Tsai said.
Delayed or no medical treatment can greatly increase the chance of joint damage, with about 80 percent of people experiencing joint damage within two years of diagnosis, and functional disabilities affecting daily life and the ability to work in about 40 percent of people within 10 years of diagnosis, she said.
During a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis, some people have difficulty holding a pair of chopsticks or a spoon, or become unable to brush their teeth or button up their clothes, but they are often mistaken as being lazy or having a poor work ethic, Tsai said.
As there are many medications for treating rheumatoid arthritis, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, biologic drugs and small-molecule inhibitors, Tri-Service General Hospital physician Lu Chun-chi (盧俊吉) said it is important for doctors to communicate with people to decide the most effective treatment option.
Many patients are afraid of taking drugs for a long time, but even when joints are not swollen or painful, they might still be inflamed and damaged, Lu said, adding that people should not stop taking the medication without consulting a doctor.
There should be empathy for people with rheumatoid arthritis, the RAAG said, adding that people should not try to avoid the condition, but instead discuss treatment options with doctors.
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