Uncommon Chat with a Rheumatoid Arthritis Specialist

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Dr. S. M. Akerkar, rheumatologist

Dr. Akerkar, Rheumatoid Arthritis specialist

One of the most interesting people I met last year is Dr. Shashank M. Akerkar, a Rheumatoid Arthritis specialist who practices in India. I was glad for the opportunity to interview Dr. Akerkar recently so you could meet him too. I got to ask him some challenging questions. And he gave some honestly enlightening answers.

Dr. Akerkar, thank you for doing this interview for our readers, many of whom live with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). What have you found to be the most surprising thing about treating RA? How a disease can cripple even a young, otherwise healthy individual. At the same time, the manner in which the disease settles (improves) with DMARDs in some patients – in fact we can literally see the (thickened) synovium melting!

What led you to choose rheumatology as a specialty? I was introduced to Rheumatology as my teacher was a rheumatologist during my post graduation course. The problem faced by patients with chronic autoimmune diseases & the sheer joy of seeing these patients achieve remission with therapy drove me to the field of rheumatology. 

What is the most important thing you want people who have RA to know? RA is a disease with good outcome if properly managed. It need not be associated with persistent joint pain. You have to be the ultimate master of your RA with the rheumatologist as a guide and a facilitator.

People think RA disease is for old people. What was the age of your youngest patient?  I treated a two year old with Still’s disease, a type of Juvenile RA. Adult RA is definitely not a disease of the elderly. In fact, Indian RA patients are different from the western population. We have one peak in the 20-30 years age group & the second one in the 5th decade. In fact, the 3rd decade of life is the most productive period of anyone’s life; hence early remission becomes very important.

We’ve talked recently on the blog about health-related internet usage. What is your opinion of this? This has been one of my curiosities & I have numerous studies & publications on the same. I have done some pioneering work in health-related internet usage patterns in India. (Note: Dr. Akerkar is the author of the first study of its kind in India looking at the health-related internet usage.)

Why did you decide to write an RA blog? What are your goals? RA is like cancer – better treated early for long term results -absolutely true. The main aim of starting the blog is increasing awareness among doctors, patients, & society as a whole. Any new RA patient in my area who gets deformities due to RA would be a shame on me, the health care professionals & the society as a whole. Awareness, early referral & early institution of DMARDs amount to half the work done in RA. This is surely the key to reducing RA-related suffering in the long run.

Secondly, research is continuous in RA. Getting this information to each & every RA patient in the language they would understand best is an additional mission. This way, I am sure they can make informed decisions in consultation with their rheumatologists.

Thirdly, the internet is full of negative thoughts about RA. RA’ers who improve with treatment generally don’t interact on the internet or take part in blog discussions as they are not as much hassled by RA. However, those with persistent disease tend to take part in online discussions & this increases the negative comments about the disease and the drugs.

For example, if you search Google for Methotrexate & RA (the patient comments on blogs rather than the informative sites), you would come across more pages with problems related to methotrexate rather than the benefits it imparts. This is what is presented to the patients when they surf the net. This blog aims to address this unhealthy picture by presenting a balanced picture, specific write-ups on taking care of the side effects. 

How did you come across the RA Warrior blog? I located your blog on Twitter. It’s one of the best sites about RA I have come across. I am proud to say that ‘methotrexate rheumatoid arthritis blogs’ throws up RA Warrior as the first result & it deals this said problem effectively. Truly, you have been a great inspiration and guide to many RA’ers.

Thank you, doctor. It’s great to meet a doctor who knows how to use the internet to benefit and educate patients.

Can you tell us the most interesting thing you have ever heard from a patient? A strange belief of one of my patients regarding RA has been one of the most interesting things I’ve heard about RA. She explained an ‘RA concept’ as a gas related problem. The so-called gas moves from one joint to the other in turn inflating the joints. This is the joint swelling that we see!! The treatment would include deflating the joints by removing the extra gas in the body, the cause of this excess gas being dietary factors!!

That’s an interesting idea; I would like to have seen the look on your face when you heard that.

What is most rewarding about your work as a rheumatologist? The smile on the face of the patients once they are in remission.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my interview with Dr. Akerkar. I’ll ask him about the biggest challenge he faces treating RA. And he’ll share the craziest treatment ever offered to cure Rheumatoid Arthritis. It won’t cure your RA, but it will make you laugh. Note: If you read this RA blog regularly, you may have already met Dr. Akerkar through comments on posts. This is not one of those doctors who hate blogs which we read about last week. This doctor actually has his own blog called Arthritis Support Board!

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Kelly Young. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010 at 7:09 am and is filed under RA Research, Resources, and Rheumatology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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