Arthritis affects young as well as old

Prevention now can help avoid the disease later

  • Darren Moffatt was three years old when he was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, a disease that affects 1,000 children across Canada. – Cindy Titus

Like any former student, Darren Moffatt is building a career and enjoying life. Unlike most students, however, he is doing this while living with arthritis.

“It was difficult to get from class to class on days when my arthritis was really bad, especially when those classes were on the other side of the campus,” said Moffatt, a former University of Manitoba student.

Moffatt was three years old when he was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, a disease that affects one in every 1,000 children across Canada.

His immune system did not recognize healthy body tissue. Instead, it attacked healthy tissue, resulting in intense pain and joint inflammation. No one else in his family had it.

“The idea that arthritis is an old people’s disease is still a prevalent myth,” Moffatt said. “The statistics may not match up to the true story, because young people with symptoms may not be approaching their doctors, or doctors may not be noticing it.”

Debbie Keele, Arthritis Society communications co-ordinator for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, agrees.

“Most of the symptoms are not recognized or understood,” Keele said.

The idea that arthritis is an old people’s disease is still a prevalent myth.

Darren Moffatt, former University of Manitoba student

Jeff Billeck, head athletic therapist for the University of Winnipeg Wesmen sports teams, has helped some younger athletes manage various forms of arthritis.

He has helped athletes who have psoriatic arthritis, related to the skin condition psoriasis. He also sees minor arthritis develop from joint fracture injuries that may have been overlooked.

“When we’re assessing people, (arthritis) is not usually the first thing we’re looking at, but it can happen,” Billeck said.

While Billeck has not seen an increase in arthritis in students due to increased computer use, he has seen other postural concerns like nerve and joint pain in the neck and spine.

Pain in the wrists or fingers is a common complaint in students who spend long hours on the computer, according to Dr. Navjot Dhindsa, assistant professor with University of Manitoba’s department of rheumatology.

She adds, however, that this pain does not increase the risk of developing arthritis.

“Infection-related arthritis is common in young people,” said Dhindsa. “It is not the infection itself, but (the body’s) abnormal response to the infection which causes arthritis.” 

Dhindsa notes that gonococcal arthritis can develop from the transfer of gonorrhea. 

She says young people and students living with arthritis need support to manage the transition to school and career. 

“If a young person has inflammatory arthritis, they may not be able to sit for a three-hour exam,” Dhindsa said. “They may need special pens with a larger grip or certain tools to assist them.”

Both Dhindsa and Moffatt agree that the best ways to prevent the development of arthritis in later life are to maintain a healthy weight and get regular exercise.

Published in Volume 65, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 7, 2010)

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