Arthritis Patients Like Alternative Treatments, Here's Why
Tens of millions of Americans suffer with the symptoms of arthritis every day of their lives, and a significant percentage of them turn to complementary and alternative medical treatments for relief. A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing reports on how many arthritis patients like alternative therapies and why.
How do you treat your arthritis symptoms?
Approximately 27 million Americans have osteoarthritis and another 1.3 million have rheumatoid arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation, and these numbers don't include the individuals who have not yet been diagnosed. Although both of these chronic diseases are types of arthritis, they do have some differences, which are mentioned below.
However, the one thing arthritis patients in both categories share is a group of symptoms that can make life miserable, namely pain and limited mobility. These symptoms can be treated conventionally using a wide variety of pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and, for rheumatoid arthritis patients, a variety of biologicals and disease-modifying drugs.
Overall, these treatments are associated with a significant number of side effects, which in some cases can be quite serious. In fact, the risk and severity of side effects can be a reason why people with arthritis turn to alternative treatments, but it is not the only reason, as the new study shows.
Researchers questioned 250 patients (ages 20-90 years) who had rheumatoid arthritis (67% of the sample) or osteoarthritis (33%) about their use of alternative and complementary treatments. Here is what they found:
- 29% of patients with osteoarthritis and 20% of those with rheumatoid arthritis said they used alternative therapies
- 23% of patients used alternative treatments along with drugs prescribed by their doctor, and 64% of them said this approach was helpful because it improved pain, sleep problems, and activity level
- When alternative treatment users rated their pain, those who reported no pain increased from 12% before using alternatives to 43% after use
- Patients who used alternative therapies also noted an improvement in sleep, with 9% sleeping all night before trying treatments and 66% sleeping through the night after using alternatives
- Use of alternative treatments also led to an improvement in daily activities. The percentage of alternative treatment users who said their pain did not stop them from their activities increased from 3% to 12%, and the percentage who said they could do what they wanted but with pain rose from 26% to 52%
- Herbal remedies were the most commonly used alternative (83% of patients), followed by exercise (22%), massage (12%), acupuncture (3%), dietary supplements (3%), and yoga and meditation (3%)
- Most (59%) of the patients did not tell their healthcare provider they were using alternative treatments
- Patients who used alternative treatments were younger (average age, 45 years) than those who did not use alternative options (57 years)
The bottom line is, patients with arthritis turn to alternative treatments because they work. As the lead professor of the study, Nada Alaaeddine, head of the Regenerative and Inflammation Lab in the Faculty of Medicine, University of St. Joseph, Beirut, Lebanon, noted, "this study shows that it provided self-reported benefits for patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis."
Briefly, osteoarthritis is characterized by wear and tear and ultimate breakdown of cartilage, which is the part of the joint that protects the ends of the bones and allows stress-free movement. Once the cartilage deteriorates, the bones rub together, resulting in pain, stiffness, and limited movement. Muscles and ligaments also can be damaged.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means the body attacks healthy cells and tissues. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the thin membrane (synovium) that lines the joints. The attack causes an accumulation of fluid in the joints, which then leads to pain, inflammation, and limited function.
Why this study is important
The findings of this study may prompt other individuals who have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis to seek complementary and alternative treatments for their symptoms. This study also revealed that most arthritis patients are not telling their doctors about their alternative treatment use, and it is important that they do so because of possible herb and drug interactions.
Alaaeddine N et al. Use of complementary and alternative therapy among patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Journal of Clinical Nursing 2012 Nov; 21:3198-3204