Incidence of arthritis growing at alarming rate: St. Joseph's Rheumatology Centre is at the leading edge of treatment and care

Sep. 28, 2011

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in Canada, affecting one in six Canadians. And the numbers are growing at an alarming rate. For women, the statistics are particularly worrisome. Not only are women two to three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, the disease has a much greater impact on their functional ability and quality of life than men.

At greatest risk are women who develop rheumatoid arthritis later in life - between the ages of 55 and 69, says Warren Nielson, a psychologist at the Rheumatology Centre at St. Joseph’s Hospital. These women are six times more likely to experience a decline in function.

In a double and triple whammy, women with rheumatoid arthritis experience more pain and are more prone to depression, which can worsen arthritis symptoms, says Nielson.

September is Arthritis Awareness Month across Canada, which aims at raising much- needed understanding of the disease and services available. Consisting of more than 100 different conditions, arthritis affects more than 1.8 million people in Ontario. Each year, St. Joseph’s Rheumatology Centre sees more than 10,000 patients requiring diagnosis, specialized treatment to reduce or prevent pain, disability and joint damage, and education that will help them live active and satisfying lives.

During Arthritis Awareness Month, the media is invited to connect with St. Joseph’s experts on work underway to improve care and outcomes for patients. In addition to the impact of arthritis on women, other news-worthy stories are:

Excellence times two
Two rheumatologists at St. Joseph’s Hospital have patients seeing double. They are identical twins. Gina and Sherry Rohekar attended medical school together at the University of Western Ontario and had  intentions to specialize in different areas of medicine. But both became intrigued by rheumatology. After training together at St. Joseph’s, they knew this was where they wanted to practice.  Despite some confused patients who can’t tell them apart, there are benefits to working together, say the twins. Their special connection means better patient care. They consult on tough cases and bounce ideas off each other. Both are also committed to research. Sherry is studying causes of ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis, while Gina's research focuses on rheumatoid arthritis.

Making education easy
For people with arthritis, understanding their various treatments and medications is critical but the information is often complex. Rheumatologist Dr. Andrew Thompson is dedicated to making it as easy as possible for patients to learn about their care. He is the creator of, a comprehensive collection of educational resources and tools for both patients and physicians. Dr. Thompson is currently researching the literacy levels of arthritis patients to find new ways to present information. He is also the author of a quick reference guide of rheumatic diseases and medications small enough to fit into the pocket of a physician’s white coat and now used by rheumatologists around the world.

World-renowned care
Scleroderma is one of the rarest forms of arthritis, and one of the deadliest. The average survival after diagnosis is 11 years. Scleroderma is an autoimmune rheumatic disease that affects connective tissues. One of the most common manifestations is hardening of the skin but it can also affect the blood vessels, muscles, and internal organs causing serious complications. Dr. Janet Pope at St. Joseph’s Rheumatology Centre is a world-renowned authority on scleroderma. The centre offers the most comprehensive care for patients with scleroderma in Canada.

St. Joseph’s physician wins prestigious award
Rheumatologist Dr. Janet Pope, chair/chief of the Rheumatology Centre, is this year’s recipient of The Arthritis Society’s Dr. Hugh Little Memorial Award. This provincial award recognizes a health care professional who has provided extraordinary volunteer leadership and service to clients of the society.  Dr. Pope, one of Canada’s leading rheumatology clinicians, researchers and educators, works closely with the society’s therapy services, is passionate about raising awareness of the disease, ensuring people with arthritis receive the best care possible and raising funds. She is this year’s honorary chair of the society’s annual Jewels and Jeans Gala. Dr. Pope has also been instrumental in attracting young professionals to the field of rheumatology.

Improving care in the community
In a new outreach initiative, St. Joseph’s is now training nurse practitioners in the community via web-based seminars and on-site preceptorships. The intention is to improve care for arthritis in Family Health Teams.  Fifteen nurse practitioners are in the program from the following locations:  Hanover, Windsor, Owen Sound, Teeswater, St. Catharines, Ilderton, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Goderich, St. Thomas, London, Woodstock, Listowel, and Ridgeway.  The initiative is funded through St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation’s Beryl and Richard Ivey Rheumatology Day Programs Fund made possible by a $250,000 bequest of Mrs. Beryl Ivey.


For more information or to arrange interviews, contact:
Dahlia Reich, Communication and Public Affairs
St. Joseph’s Health Care London
Phone: 519 646-6100 ext. 65294
Pager: 519 646-6100 ext. 10117

Back to Newsroom