Rheumatism often conjures up images of elderly patients speaking of their aching joints when the weather acts up.
But rheumatological diseases can afflict even the young and hale, like former national swimmer Clement Lim, 24, who picked up five gold medals in events like the Youth Olympic Games and the SEA Games.
He was one of the 100 participants at the Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) first Swim for Rheumatology fund-raiser yesterday morning, which aims to raise awareness and funding for rheumatology research here.
Mr Lim was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an incurable inflammation of the spine, while on national service in 2013. The condition leaves him with persistent back pains and stiffness, and he may be unable to get out of bed when it flares up.
"That was one factor in my early retirement, along with other commitments," said the final-year sports science and management undergraduate at the Nanyang Technological University.
Swimming is the best exercise for rheumatic patients as it is a whole-body exercise that does not add stress or load on their joints, said Mr Lim, who still swims for leisure to relieve the stiffness and back pain he has.
He was joined at the event yesterday by other former national swimmers such as Leslie Kwok, Joel Tan and Russell Ong. Current national swimmer Roanne Ho, 25, fresh off her gold victory at the 2017 SEA games in the 50m women's breaststroke, also took part in the charity swim.
SGH raised about $103,000 at the event, which also includes an ongoing donation drive at crowdfunding site GiveAsia and pledges from donors.
The money will be used to fund patient research on the causes and treatment of rheumatological diseases here.
Over 600,000 people suffer from various rheumatological diseases in Singapore, which include conditions such as sclerosis, osteoarthritis and lupus.
Such diseases are more than just aches and pains as many rheumatological conditions occur when the patient's immune system turns against him and starts attacking major organs such as the heart, lungs, brain and nerves.
"Treatment options remain limited for many of these conditions, which can be life-threatening," said SGH's head and senior consultant at the department of rheumatology and immunology, Dr Andrea Low.
"We need to do better for our patients. That becomes our driving force to better understand these diseases and to uncover new treatments and cures through research."