October 18, 2004 (STAR) A common belief among a lot of people is that with the onset of the so-called "ber" months (September, October, November and December), arthritis, or rayuma as it is known in the vernacular, will again take its toll on many arthritic sufferers.

There is a medical basis for that statement, says Dr. Juan Javier Lichauco of the Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology Center of St. Lukeís Medical Center which was established to provide a premier diagnostic and treatment facility for the three major fields of immunologic conditions.

Lichauco explains that the reason why arthritic patients seem to suffer more pain during cold months is because of the change in barometric pressure in the afflicted joints.

What are immunologic diseases?

These are allergies, immune deficiency, reproductive immunologic condition and auto immune disorders. Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system is hyper-responsive and produces antibodies that attack a personís body with symptoms varying on the kind of disorder and part of the body affected.

These could be in the form of multi-organ involvement like lupus which is characterized by the inflammation of vital organs like the skin, lungs, heart, brain, liver and kidneys.

Although the exact cause of lupus is unknown, a combination of genetic and environmental factors such as viruses have been implicated. Symptoms commonly include fatigue, weight loss, falling hair, photosensitive rash, recurrent oral or nasal ulcers and joint pain and swelling.

With only 65 rheumatologists in the country today, Lichauco wants people to understand that there are more than 100 types of arthritis and soft tissue rheumatism. Some are curable, some are not.

A form of curable arthritis is gout brought about by elevation in uric acid and can be prevented if given the proper medication. But there are others like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the most dreaded type due to its deforming and crippling consequences and commonly found among middle-aged females.

Affected areas like the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands and knees can be inflamed all at the same time with symptoms ranging from redness, swelling, pain and warmth. Inflammation is symmetric with joints of both sides of the body affected.

Early diagnosis is the key to prevent progression and disability. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis which affects children can be very disabling and if left untreated, can stunt growth.

As people advance in age, the most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis. Overweight and certain types of individuals may also develop it due to the increased load to their knee joints and the nature of their jobs like athletes.

Cartilage breakdown from wear and tear is seen in osteoarthritis and is characterized by bony enlargement of the affected joint, and like other forms of arthritis, may hamper the daily activities of patients.

Though there are medicines that can control and alter the course of arthritis, there is nothing more important than consulting a rheumatologist to establish the presence of the disease.

Lichauco advises arthritic patients to maintain an ideal body weight, undergo some lifestyle modification and the most important thing, have some form of low-impact exercise like swimming, biking (even stationary bikes will do) and brisk walking.

Physical therapy is an important aspect of treating patients with arthritis. It involves exercises to improve muscle strength and modalities such as ultrasound and paraffin wax to restore mobility. In severe cases, surgery is required to alleviate pain and improve function.

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For more information, call St. Lukeís Rheumatology, Allergology and Immunology Center at 723-0101 local 4725.

Dr. Juan Javier T. Lichauco graduated magna cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery in 1993. He had fellowship training in rheumatology at Montefiore Medical Center and was a research fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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