Which treatments are right for you? That depends on several factors, including the type of arthritis you have, how advanced it is, and the goals you and your doctor have set for managing your illness. Here is a brief overview of some common treatments for arthritis available today.
For people who have osteoarthritis (OA), these may be their first line of defense to prevent further damage to cartilage and slow down their symptoms..
- Nutritional supplements, such as SAM-e and turmeric, may relieve your pain as well as reduce inflammation. Also, topical treatments, like capsaicin, may provide pain relief, and avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASAs) may slow deterioration in joints and help regenerate tissue. Before taking a supplement, check with your doctor.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin are found naturally in cartilage and bone, but they are also available as supplements and may improve joint function, relieve pain and slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
- Lifestyle changes including exercising regularly (to strengthen musles and bones around the joints) and losing weight (to avoid putting unnecessary strain on your bones and joints) can help prevent or prolong damage from arthritis and reduce its symptoms.
For others, the first line of defense typically is some form of medication to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, but not all drugs are appropriate for everyone. For many, there are noted dangers of interactions with other medications that will need to be evaluated by your doctor before deciding what is best for you.
- Analgesics , like acetaminophen, are available over the counter and may be effective in relieving pain. For tougher cases, your doctor might recommend a prescription painkiller, such as oxycodone, but narcotics may have side effects and be habit forming.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen, reduce inflammation and also relieve associated pain and are available over-the-counter or by prescription. They do carry a risk of blood clots, heart attack and stroke and so are best assessed with the help of your doctor.
- Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, reduce inflammation. While they may be prescribed for OA, they are more often used in treating RA, but they carry a risk of side effects. For this reason, steroids are usually use short-term for people with RA, while waiting for NSAIDs and/or DMARDs to take effect.
- DMARDs, short for disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, are only used for RA. These drugs may slow the progress of the disease. However, they are not a quick fix, often taking weeks or even months to bring about noticeable signs of improvement..
- Biologics – These drugs are only available for people with RA. They’re delivered via injection or IV infusion. Because of potential side effects, biologics are only used to treat people who have moderate to severe RA.
Surgical treatments for arthritis have advanced significantly, so they are now a viable option for many people. Some are used to help relieve pain, while others are used to regain mobility. Here are just a few of the more common types.
- Joint fusion, or arthrodesis, consists of removing the joint in your ankle, finger, wrist, toe or spine, and then fusing together the bones at either end. It is used for patients whose joints have been eroded by arthritis.
- Joint replacement, or arthroplasty, is most successful in treating arthritis in the hips and knees, but it can work with other joints as well. Typically, doctors recommend it only when essentially all of the cartilage has worn away, causing two bones to rub directly against each other. In this treatment for arthritis, a surgeon removes the natural joint entirely and replaces it with an artificial one.
- An osteotomy may help if your joint damage is uneven, or if age or other factors make joint replacement a poor choice. This surgery, which is primarily an option for hip and knee issues, involves cutting a bone to lengthen, shorten or change its alignment.
If you’ve already tried some of these treatments, something else you might discuss with your doctor is the potential to participate in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are conducted to find out if potential new medications and treatments are both safe and effective. They rely on volunteers who are will to participate throughout the duration of the study to try therapies under research. Some of the reasons for taking part in a clinical trial include:
- The potential to have access to potential treatments under development
- The opportunity to potentially help others in the future
- Access to study-related care from doctors and/or specialists
- Possible compensation for time and travel
Any trial has risks associated with it, an informed consent is required to take part in clinical trials. These risks are explained in full at the research site, and individuals have the right to information about potential risks as they become known. In addition, participants can leave trials at any point. If you want to learn more, the best place to start is with your doctor to discuss what might work best for you.
A diagnosis of arthritis doesn’t have to be devastating. Ask your doctor to help you sort through the options and determine which are most likely to help you reduce pain, improve function, slow the progression of the disease and give you the best possible quality of life.