Arthritis Patients Follow Natural Path

Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis patients did not tell doctors they used complementary and alternative medicine

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Drugs are one way to treat arthritis but they aren't the only way. Many arthritis patients choose to add natural therapies to their treatment plan.

In a recent study, slightly less than one-quarter of arthritis patients used natural therapies - or complementary and alternative therapy (CAT) - in addition to their prescription drugs.

However, most of these patients did not tell their doctors they were using CAT.

While many arthritis patients find pain relief in natural therapies, some of these treatments do not mix well with traditional treatments. If doctors do not know that patients are using CAT, they cannot help patients avoid complications.

"Tell your doctor about all medications you take."

"Our study underlines the importance of healthcare professionals being knowledgeable about the potential use of CAT when providing medical care to patients with arthritis," said Nada Alaaeddine, PhD, Professor and Health of the Regenerative and Inflammation Lab at the University of St. Joseph in Beirut, Lebanon.

"Although CAT might have beneficial effects in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, patients should be cautious about their use and should tell their healthcare providers that they are using them to make sure they don't conflict with their existing treatment," said Dr. Alaaeddine.

From their study, Dr. Alaaeddine and colleagues found 23 percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis used CAT in addition to their drug treatment.

A majority of CAT users (59 percent) did not tell their doctors they were using CAT.

There are a number of therapies that are classified as CAT. In this study, the most commonly used CATs were:

  • herbal therapy, with 83 percent use
  • exercise, with 22 percent use
  • massage, with 12 percent use
  • acupuncture, with 3 percent use
  • yoga and meditation, with 3 percent use
  • dietary supplements, with 3 percent use

Of those who used CAT, 64 percent felt the treatment was good for them. These patients said CAT led to less pain, better sleeping patterns and improved activity levels.

The researchers asked CAT users to rate the amount of pain they felt. After using CAT, the percentage of patients who said they felt no pain increased from 12 percent to 43 percent.

CAT users reported fewer limitations to their daily activities. After using CAT, the percentage of patients who said their pain did not get in the way of their daily activities increased from 3 percent to 12 percent. The percentage of patients who reported being able to do everything - but with pain - increased from 26 percent to 52 percent.

CAT use also seemed to improve sleep. Before using CAT, 9 percent of patients said they slept all night. After using CAT, 66 percent of patients said they slept all night.

Despite these benefits, 24 percent of patients sought medical care for possible side effects. Fortunately, these side effects were not serious and were easily treated.

Skin and gut problems were the most common side effects.

"Often patients receive negative or indifferent responses when they discuss complementary treatments with their doctors," said Alexandra Reimann, ND, of Valhalla Wellness and Medical Center.

"This survey shows that the majority of arthritis patients using CAT were experiencing benefits, but also the majority of them were not telling their healthcare providers. This dichotomy illustrates the importance of doctors keeping a nonjudgmental communication line open with their patients as well as an open mind toward therapies that they may not be well versed in," said Dr. Reimann, who was not involved in the study.

"Good health care is what is good for the patient. When patients are intimidated about sharing the treatments they benefit from, the learning curve stops," she said.

According to Dr. Alaaeddine, "CAT use is increasing and this study shows that it provided self-reported benefits for patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

"It is, however, important patients discuss CAT use with their healthcare practitioner and that they are made aware of possible side effects, in particular the possible interactions between herbal and prescribed drugs."

For their study, the researchers surveyed 250 patients with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Of these, 67 percent had rheumatoid arthritis while the rest had osteoarthritis.

CAT use was more common among patients with osteoarthritis than among those with rheumatoid arthritis. Specifically, 29 percent of osteoarthritis patients used CAT versus 20 percent of rheumatoid arthritis patients.

The study was published October 22 in the Journal of Clinical Nursing

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 30, 2012
Last Updated:
November 5, 2012