Rheumatic diseases – The primary cause of disability in Italy

Rheumatic diseases attack the musculoskeletal system and, in general, connective tissue, mostly affecting the joints, but can even spread to the bones and tendons as well. In some cases, the disease can also expand to organs such as the heart, lungs or intestines. It is, thus, a widespread misconception that rheumatic diseases are insignificant and linked to age or humid climates. Many rheumatic diseases not only cause pain, but bring about a decreased quality of life. Decreased mobility, in fact, limits a patient’s ability to work and face even the most simple aspects of life, creating the need for constant support from family members.

Diseases not to be underestimated

Rheumatic diseases, comprehensively, represent the number one cause of disability in Italy. There are many types of rheumatic diseases that can be generally classified as inflammatory, degenerative, metabolic and extra-articular. Inflammatory rheumatism, such as rheumatoid arthritis, is the most serious. It is an autoimmune disorder caused by inflammation that results when cells from the body’s immune system attack joints and other tissues. When inflammation is not halted in time, irreversible damage can be caused to the bones and internal organs. The causes of these diseases are still unknown, but can be linked to genetic factors. One thing is certain and true for all rheumatic diseases – early diagnosis is essential in limiting damage.

Knowing the symptoms. The first step in fighting rheumatic diseases

One of the main problems linked to rheumatic diseases is that most patients tend to ignore the warning signs for a long period of time. Rheumatic diseases are very different from one another, but have one thing in common. Quite often these diseases are diagnosed late, when the disease becomes harder to cure and there is a greater risk of invalidity for the patient. Ideally, the disease should be treated in the first few weeks from onset. Pain, swelling and signs of inflammation (redness and heat) in the joints of the hands and feet that last more than three weeks should not be ignored. Another warning sign is articular rigidity, especially upon waking if it lasts more than one hour. In these cases, a doctor should be consulted to establish which exams should be performed, if necessary, to understand the cause of the problem.

Furthermore, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking helps prevent these diseases.

Treatment: compared to European standards, Italy falls behind

Treatment for rheumatic diseases varies greatly depending on the type of disease, but some bases for treatment are the same, including first and foremost, pain control and help with decreased movement. Treatment aims at halting deformities in order to prevent permanent damage and disability. Yet Italy falls behind in more innovative treatments such as biologics. These pharmaceuticals were introduced twenty years ago and improved the treatment of rheumatic diseases greatly, lengthening survival time of patients by at least ten years. In Italy, however, only one-fifth of patients that could benefit from these treatments actually have access to them. In a European classification, Italy ranked third to last in prescribing biologics, ranking higher only than Greece and Portugal.

For this reason, the Italian Society of Rheumatology requested the establishment of a national fund dedicated to new treatments, but there is still a long way to go before rheumatology in Italy can be considered avant-garde. Domedica’s Patient Support Programs, however, offer effective and cutting-edge solutions to meet a patient’s full gamut of needs.

© Domedica s.r.l.

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