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Monday, June 7, 1999 Published at 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK


Arthritis: A new north-south divide

Arthritis can affect movement in the hands

Scientists have uncovered another example of the north-south divide - and it is the north that comes off worst again.

Roger Sturrock, professor of rheumatology at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, says there is evidence that people with arthritis suffer worse symptoms if they live in Scotland and the north of England, compared to sufferers who live in the south.

Professor Sturrock told the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) congress in Glasgow that poverty and social deprivation were to blame for the geographical split because they prevented patients from accessing proper health care.

The EULAR conference coincides with arthritis awareness week and with the UK launch of a new arthritis treatment, Zinaxin, a dietary supplement based on highly-concentrated extracts of ginger.

More than 700,000 people in Scotland suffer from arthritis, which is the biggest cause of disability in the UK.

Professor Sturrock, who is chairman of the EULAR congress organising committee, said a number of new treatments were becoming available.

The congress will look at evidence for using new drug treatment during its meetings in Glasgow which last until Thursday.

"As you move north in Great Britain the severity of the arthritis increases the further you go," he said.

"By the time you get to the west of Scotland you have almost reached the high point of severity of disease. It is not more common in these areas but more severe."

Professor Sturrock said the congress has been examining the evidence for using the new drugs coming onto the market for sufferers but said it was vital that sufferers have access to health services in the first place.

When examining new treatments for the problem Professor Sturrock believes the Scottish Parliament, which has responsibility for health, will want value for money while trying to find the best ways to fight arthritis.

"The Scottish health service has been in the forefront of using audits to determine best treatment," he added.

"Together with EULAR, we should be able to improve the quality of care for patients with rheumatic diseases in Scotland."

New treatment

Arthritis is the single biggest cause of physical disability in the UK, affecting eight million people including nearly 15,000 children.

It is estimated that one in four visits to a GP concerns one of nearly 200 types of arthritis and rheumatism.

Most types of arthritis are associated with inflammation of the joints which can cause swelling, stiffness and tenderness.

These joint symptoms may be accompanied by weight loss, fever or weakness.

People can also get joint problems from the repeated impact on joints caused by participation in some sports.

Zinaxin could be an altnerative to the non-steroidal anti-inflmmatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are currently most often used to treat arthritis.

NSAIDs relieve pain and stiffness, reduce inflammation and allow patients to sleep and to carry on with their lives, but it is thought that 12,000 patients develop serious side effects every year from taking NSAIDs, and 2,000 die.

Zinaxin has no side-effects, and has already achieved considerable success overseas.

It was developed by Danish scientists, who studied the effects of hundreds of natural substances before isolating ginger as the most effective.

However, the US Arthritis Foundation refused to recommend the use of Zinaxin on the grounds that there is no substantial evidence to prove that it works.

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