Choosing Alternative Treatments for RA

Rheumatoid arthritis alternative treatments utilized often by African American patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) To ease the pain that comes with rheumatoid arthritis, some patients opt for methods of care that don't require a prescription. How these alternative methods have been used varies from patient to patient and across different ethnicities.

Among African Americans with rheumatoid arthritis, the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to ease their stiff joints was high, a new study found.

In this study, CAM included food supplements, lotions and oils applied to the skin, and use of alternative care providers, such as chiropractors and religious leaders.

According to the researchers, knowing which CAM treatments patients are using can help doctors advise patients about the potential benefits and harms of those treatments.

"Tell your doctor about all alternative treatments you use."

The aim of this study, led by Ashutosh Tamhane, MD, PhD, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was to investigate the use of complementary and alternative medicine by African Americans with rheumatoid arthritis.

In the study, which is the first of its kind to look only at the African American population, complementary and alternative medicine encompassed 16 different treatments and activities to ease arthritis symptoms. These included heat treatments, cold treatments with ice packs and topical ointments including store-bought lotions, herbal creams and plant oils.

Food and drink products such as fish oils, garlic, apple cider vinegar, honey, gelatin, raisins, cranberry juice and herbal drinks were also included on the list of alternative treatments.

The researchers focused on data from 855 African Americans collected at a multi-center registry. The participants averaged about 54 years of age and 85 percent were women.

About two-thirds of the participants had hypertension and almost a quarter had diabetes. In addition, 13 percent of the participants had heart disease and 5 percent had had a stroke.

The database included information on participants' use of alternative treatments, activities related to anxiety and stress and alternative care providers. Such providers included chiropractors, church leaders, pastors and priests.

The researchers compared data by gender and how long each person had rheumatoid arthritis.

The researchers found that African American patients tried three different CAM treatments and five CAM activities on average. Just over half the patients also consulted at least one doctor of complementary and alternative medicine.

Heat treatments, such as hot baths or paraffin wax, were the most common alternative medicine treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, with 80 percent of the participants using some form of heat treatment. Use of store-bought oils, creams and lotions followed behind with 76 percent of participants using them.

Praying and attending church were the most common alternative medicine activities among 92 percent of the participants. Talking to family members or friends came in second with 83 percent of the participants engaging in the activity.

Just under a third of the participants sought treatment from a pastor, priest, rabbi or other church leader, and 23 percent of the participants sought treatment from a chiropractor.

In total, 99 percent of the participants used at least one of the 16 treatments, providers or activities on the study's complementary and alternative medicine treatments list.

There was no significant difference in use of alternative treatments and medicines between those who had the disease less than two years and those who had it for more than two years.

Women tried more alternative medicine practices than men, but the differences were also not significant. Women might have more anxiety related to rheumatoid arthritis compared to men, according to the researchers.

"Being aware of CAM use, healthcare providers can advise patients regarding potentially beneficial, harmful, or ineffective treatments," the researchers wrote in their report. "This would also help in overall management and could address the issues of treatment adherence and outcomes."

The authors noted that they could not determine what prompted African Americans' usage of alternative medications for rheumatoid arthritis. They also noted that they relied on data that was reported by the participants, which might be subject to bias.

This study was published on August 27 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.

The study was funded by grants from the UAB Center for Clinical and Translational Science under the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) at the National Institutes of Health.

Review Date: 
August 29, 2013
Last Updated:
August 29, 2013