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Breakfast Monday, 22 July, 2002, 05:27 GMT 06:27 UK
New drugs: new side-effects?
Arthritis is a disorder of the immune system

Traditional NSAIDs - nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - are one of the most common options to relieve the pain of arthritis.

But there are side effects - stomach upset, or more serious gastrointestinal (GI) problems, including ulcers and bleeding.

So when a new more 'stomach friendly' type of drug - the cyclooxygenase-2 or COX-2 Inhibitors - became available many people swapped their medication.

However, recent reports in the medical press suggest that these might not be suitable for everyone.

We spoke to our resident GP Dr Rosemary Leonard.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis means inflammation of a joint or joints. There are over 200 kinds of rheumatic disease. Arthritis Care, a national charity, say that in any one year 8 million people will be diagnosed with the condition. In fact, arthritis is the biggest cause of physical disability in the UK. Arthritis is usually associated with the elderly but it does affect people of all ages, and out of the 8 million diagnosed each year 14,500 are children (Juvenile Chronic Arthritis).

What causes arthritis? The cause(s) of arthritis is (are) not yet known. Sufferers say that damp, or hot and humid weather can make symptoms worse - but climate is most certainly not the cause because arthritis is commonplace worldwide. The condition is indiscriminate and transcends climate, sex, age and ethnic race. The condition does appear to run in families, which suggests that there is a genetic link. Researchers say that genetics, coupled with a variety of environmental factors, may trigger the disease in people who are prone to it.

The symptoms of arthritis

The type of arthritis you have will determine your symptoms. But generally speaking, symptoms include pain in the joints, stiffness and fatigue. The severity of your symptoms may be different to that of another sufferer.

Managing arthritis

As well as speaking to your consultant and taking prescribed medication, exercise and a little self-help are advocated by Arthritis Care. It's important to take regular, gentle exercise like swimming (strictly under medical supervision) - so joints do not become stiffer. The charity also advises finding different ways of doing everyday household chores and tasks, in order not to put extra stress on joints. Being seriously overweight can also bear down heavily on joints, so it's important to think about a sensible and balanced diet.

Arthritis Care run a programme called Challenging Arthritis. It aims to empower people living with the condition through relaxation techniques, courses on coping with depression, and pain management.

Where can I find out more about arthritis?

You can visit BBC Health's Arthritis Guide website for more information about arthritis.

Also, Arthritis Care has over 620 branches in the UK and offers support and advice to over 50,000 members.

There is also Young Arthritis Care, which is especially aimed at younger people and their families.

As well as a helpline service, Arthritis Care runs 4 holiday hotels and a home visiting service, self management courses and produces a range of publications including Arthritis News.

The mission statement of the organisation is: 'Empowering people with arthritis to take control of their arthritis, their lives and their organisation.'

You can also call the helpline on 020 7380 6555 (from 10am - 4pm Monday Friday).

There is also a free phone number: 0808 800 4050.

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