Dr Maryam Samavi stresses a delay in a youngster being correctly diagnosed and receiving the right treatment can result in the ‘golden period’ at the onset of the condition – when doctors have the best chance of preserving and protecting the joints – being lost.
She says there is some ignorance among the general public about how the complaint can affect younger people.
Dr Samavi, who has a special interest in treating adolescents and young adults both at Spire Regency Hospital and Macclesfield District General Hospital, says: “People assume that arthritis only affects older people – there is often not the understanding that it can happen at any age. It can occur in younger people too, even in children who are only a couple of months old. “In adolescents and young adults the symptoms are often put down to being sports and injury related, because by this age they are often quite active.
“Although such injuries are more common than arthritis, where there is the potential for it to be inflammatory arthritis it is important to recognise that early diagnosis and treatment is essential to avoid paying the price later in life.
“If the condition is missed during the first three months, at the onset of symptoms, the golden period when you can receive the correct treatment to prevent permanent damage to the joints is lost.” There are several different types of arthritis, with rheumatoid or ‘inflammatory’ arthritis – which typically affects joints such as hands, feet, wrists and ankles – and a condition called ankylosing spondylitis - which affects the spine– being the most common in teenagers and young adults. The causes are not yet fully known, though there can, but not always, be a hereditary link – with smoking a key risk factor if there is already the possibility of developing it through genetics.
Meanwhile osteoarthritis – which causes painful joints including hands, knees and hips - affects mainly older people and is caused by the body’s ageing process.
“Just like you get wrinkles or grey hair, we suffer wear and tear on our joints,” Dr Samavi says. “This is separate from the other types of arthritis, and means the treatment for osteoarthritis is also completely different. It involves protecting the joints as much as possible and managing the pain.
” In contrast, the types of arthritis typically blighting younger people do have the potential to respond well to treatment – but again, the key to success lies in the condition being caught early.
“With arthritis you cannot go back once the damage has been done, it is irreversible and over time will continue to deteriorate and cause further pain,” Dr Samavi says. "But if the condition is diagnosed early, with the right treatment, there is a good chance it will go into remission, or at least the severity of symptoms will be reduced.
” Dr Samavi’s specialist interest arthritis in younger people was sparked by the realisation that younger people needed to be engaged with a different way compared to adults. “Arthritis is a long-term condition which are you diagnosed with for life,” she explains.
“Challenges like not being able to keep up with their peers, suffering from a lack of confidence or feeling distanced from ‘the norm’ can all affect youngsters and mean they fail to engage and adhere to their treatment in best way. By building up the right rapport and a relationship with them we are more likely to be able to keep them on top of their condition.”
At the same time as generally raising awareness of the condition in younger people on the back of World Arthritis Day - which the nation marked on Friday - Dr Samavi is also sharing some key clues to look for when distinguishing whether symptoms are related to an injury or arthritis
“Pain relating to a sports injury is something that comes out with activity,” she explains. “Whereas the pain caused by inflammatory arthritis is usually noticed early in the morning. The same applies with back pain – if it’s related to sciatica or a disc problem, it will usually get worse the more active you are, whereas if it is ankylosing spondylitis sufferers will normally notice the pain early on in the day.”
For more information about the Dr Samavi’s services at Spire Regency or to make an appointment, contact Pat or Annie on 01625 505412 or email email@example.com