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Back pain is the most common disease after sneeze
Rheumatic diseases are one of the most common causes of disability and the most common reason for sick leave and early retirement. Rheumatic diseases are the most common diagnosis after heart and blood vessel diseases in Serbia. As many as three quarters of the population in Serbia suffer from some form of rheumatism.

When we hear that a person suffers from ’rheumatism’, we immediately think of elderly people and it is the first, serious misconception. The very term ’rheumatism’ is a folk expression that is wrongly associated with some diseases. Rheumatic diseases are among the leading mass non-infectious diseases and the largest number of patients are in the most productive period of life, from 18 to 65 years of age.

- Rheumatic diseases are a diverse group of disorders, including more than 200 of them, and what they have in common is the fact that people feel pain in the joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles. Causes of pain can be very different, and very severe diseases can hide behind similar symptoms that result in severe disability and shorter life expectancy, unless detected and treated in time. Severe forms of rheumatism affect women much more often, so they are about three times more likely to suffer from systemic diseases of the connective tissue, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and scleroderma, while men are more likely to suffer from gout and spondyloarthritis - Doc. Dr. Goran Radunović, Internal Medicine Specialist, Director of the Institute of Rheumatology says.

Children are also affected

More than 2,000 children suffer from inflammatory rheumatic diseases in Serbia.

- Unfortunately, children suffer from the most severe rheumatic diseases. They are lifelong autoimmune diseases with very unpredictable course and can shorten the life expectancy by up to 10 years, unless early diagnosed and immediately treated - our interlocutor warns.

Approximately 70 percent of all patients with chronic rheumatic diseases, which include autoimmune diseases, systemic connective tissue diseases, various forms of arthritis and severe forms of degenerative rheumatism in the territory of Serbia, are hospitalized at the Institute of Rheumatology, an institution with a tradition longer than half a century. It is estimated that approximately 50,000 people in Serbia suffer from severe, chronic joint inflammation alone.

How far has rheumatology progressed and how much can it help critically ill patients?

- It has progressed extremely well. Presently, we diagnose and treat severe rheumatic diseases much faster and much more successfully. It is especially important that we presently have know-how and ways to prevent such diseases. We were not able to do that in the past, but today we can stop them completely, prevent further joint damages and disability, and enable patients to live and work normally - Doc. Dr. Goran Radunović explains.

Bad habits take a toll

Health figures warn that 60% of the Serbian population has had a lumbar syndrome, popularly called sciatica, minimum once. Why is there such an increase in rheumatic diseases?

- The most common rheumatic problems, such as pain in the back, neck, are often the result of insufficient physical activity, prolonged sitting, as well as congenital conditions resulting from person's upright position. Hence, an increasing number of young people suffer from back pain, which can be acute, sudden, but also chronic, long-lasting. Prolonged sitting puts pressure on the spine. At the same time, abdominal muscles, whose task is to maintain the proper position of the spinal column, tend to weaken. When it is disturbed, the intervertebral disc gets damaged. Treatment is complex, and includes medicines, physical therapy, and if problems persist, threatening with severe complications, they are surgically managed - our interlocutor says.

Daily physical activity is important in the prevention of degenerative rheumatic diseases and osteoporosis.

- Moderate physical activity, exercises strengthening the muscles that hold the spine can contribute to avoiding the development of mentioned problems. Moderation is important, because exaggeration in sports activities, improper weightlifting also lead to serious spinal column injuries - Doc. Dr. Radunović warns.

Institute of Rheumatology – a trusted institution
The institute was founded by Prim. Dr. Zagorka Berović back in 1965 under the name of the Institute for Rheumatism, and it got its current name in 1988. At that time, the Institute was the leading rheumatology center of the former Yugoslavia, with a capacity of more than 300 beds and the second largest institution of its kind in Europe. This reference center for rheumatism of the Republic of Serbia, adapted to meet the needs of patients in the best way and provide the highest level of health services, has been the teaching base of the Faculty of Medicine in Belgrade for regular and postgraduate curriculum in rheumatology for more than 4 decades.
- Our task is to further improve the operation of our Institute, keep up with the state-of-the-art trends in treatment for the benefit of our patients. We shall soon receive a new scanner. We have employed 11 young doctors who have graduated from the Faculty of Medicine with the highest grade point average - acting Director Radunović points out with pleasure.