Obesity rates put UAE residents at high risk

From heart disease to diabetes, there are any number of health conditions that can arise from being overweight. With the UAE’s staggering rates of obesity, more people than ever are at risk of developing the degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, causes the cartilage that lines and cushions joints to become rougher and thinner, as a result of wear and tear.

The symptoms of the condition include pain, stiffness and swelling caused by the bones rubbing or grinding against each other.

Osteoarthritis is relatively common disease that increases in prevalence with age. Before the age of 45, osteoarthritis is more common in men than in women while after age 45, it is more common in women.

According to recent analysis gathered through the Global Burden of Disease Study, more than 66 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women in the UAE are overweight or obese. This means people in the UAE could be more at risk of developing osteoarthritis than their western counterparts.

“Obesity is one of the most significant, and potentially most preventable, risk factors for the development of osteoarthritis, and a number of studies have shown a strong link between weight and osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, foot and hand,” explains Dr Samih Tarabichi, Director-General of the Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery, Dubai.

“The general prevalence of arthritis is the same in the Gulf countries as the west. The difference is that the Middle East leads the world in obesity and that puts them at increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.

“Despite being a leading cause of disability, there is a distinct lack of awareness as to what the condition actually is and the treatments available.”

Considered a chronic condition, osteoarthritis currently doesn’t have any cure. However, regular exercise, nutrition, weight management and anti-inflammatory medications can keep the symptoms in check.

Doctors often prescribe analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen, corticosteroids and hyaluronic acid injections to lubricate the joints. Exercise and physical therapy is especially important to help improve flexibility, maintain range of motion, strengthen the tissue around joints and aid overall fitness.

Doctors or therapists may also prescribe the used of devices such as canes, splints, shoe orthotics and knee braces to aid mobility and provide support. Cold and heat therapy can also be used to alleviate pain and lifestyle changes such as exercise and diet have been shown to have a positive effect.

“The pain associated with osteoarthritis can be intense and it usually is made worse by movement,” explains Dr Tarabichi.

“While there is significant evidence that osteoarthritis can be reversed, osteoarthritis is a long-term condition but it doesn't necessarily get any worse over time and it can sometimes gradually improve. In most cases, people can manage their osteoarthritis symptoms with medicine and lifestyle changes.

“But surgery may be an option if you have very bad pain, you have lost a lot of cartilage, you have tried medicine and other treatments, but they haven't helped and your overall health is good.”

Treatment for osteoarthritis has evolved dramatically over the past several decades. Some of the surgical options include arthroscopy, which is surgery to fix small tears in the tissues around joints such as the knee, hip, shoulder. The surgery is done using tiny incisions, a small camera and specialised equipment to repair, or remove damaged cartilage.

Joint resurfacing, also called partial knee replacement, is an option where doctors replace only a part of the knee, or hip with an implant. More severe joint damage is treated with arthrodesis, which is also called “fusion” surgery.

Pins, plates, or rods are used - during surgery - to join bones in the ankles, wrists, or spine, to form a continuous joint. In time the bones grow together and set the joint in place. Damaged joints can also be replaced with implants made from metal, plastic or ceramic during a total joint replacement procedure.

Joint revision surgery may also be required to replace old or worn out implants. Minimally invasive total joint replacement is also preferred, as it offers quicker recovery time and less pain compared to the conventional procedure. In addition to these, procedures such as osteotomy and synovectomy are also carried out to treat inflammation in tissues and damaged joints.

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