Ankylosing Spondylitis in Singapore

ankylosing spondylitis treatment

PAIN is what a 25-year-old arthritis sufferer has been living with for nine years. The university student, who wants to be known as Bai, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis as a form of arthritis when he was 16.

More young Singaporeans like him are being diagnosed with arthritis, a chronic condition that causes painful inflammation of the joints. In 2007, 4.9 per cent of people here aged 18 to 29 had arthritis, a survey by the Health Ministry showed. In 2001, just 0.3 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 had arthritis. While the cause of arthritis remains unknown, two Singapore doctors have attributed the rising number of young sufferers to increased awareness, as well as the growing obesity rate (being overweight increases stress on joints). They revealed this at a press conference yesterday, during which the findings of a study on arthritis were announced.

The study of 508 Dutch patients found that early treatment with methotrexate, an anti-rheumatic drug, and infliximab, a genetically engineered drug derived from human genes, helped reduce disease activity and joint damage. Dr Leong Keng Hong, a rheumatologist in private practice, said that youths make up more than half of the around 20 cases he sees daily – and the number is rising. Many of those he has seen delayed treatment until their condition worsened, as they were “under the myth that only old people get arthritis”. Doctors estimate that 60,000 people here suffer from arthritis.

While osteoarthritis affects mainly the elderly, young people are vulnerable to several forms of arthritis – particularly rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which first develops between the ages of 25 and 50. RA is an auto-immune condition which causes inflammation of the joint membranes. Dr Leong estimates that around 60 per cent of young patients with arthritis suffer from RA. Worldwide, up to 60 per cent of RA patients leave their jobs or retire early because of the illness, said Professor Feng Pao Hsii, a consultant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital. Those with severe pain and swelling in their joints that last formore than a couple of weeks are advised to consult a physician. However, treatment can be costly. Prof Feng estimates that the use of biologics– genetically engineered drugs – can cost patients over $2,000 a month. It was partly the high cost of medication that deterred Bai from using anything other than painkillers until three years ago. He now spends around $9,000 in two months on treatment, and is partly helped by various subsidies. (Source: My Paper Oct 2009)

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