How to Cope with Arthritis with Conventional Treatment

About one in seven Americans suffers from arthritis, and most are senior citizens. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of the disease among the elderly, is a chronic degenerative condition that comes from wear and tear on the joints. It afflicts 16 million Americans but is poorly understood, and there is no effective conventional treatment. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most intractable and painful form of the disease. The evidence is inconclusive, but many researchers feel it’s caused by a virus or bacterium. Bursitis is a painful inflammation of the bursae, the fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons and ligaments where they move against each other. Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammation of the spine and hip joints. Many other conditions also involve an element of inflammatory arthritis, including lupus, ulcerative colitis, and gout or gouty arthritis.

Conventional Treatment

Conventional Treatment

Standard treatments recommended for osteoarthritis include exercise, weight loss for overweight people to ease stress on the joints, and pain relievers including acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory chugs such as Motrin or Naprosin. The drugs, however, don’t cure the disease but only relieve pain; and they do it by suppressing natural bodily processes. The result can be side effects ranging from gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers to kidney problems. Drugs given to slow progression of the disease aren’t very effective and can have even worse side effects.

Aspirin has long been the preferred pain reliever for arthritis. Acetaminophen is easier on the stomach, but it doesn’t reduce inflammation, which is involved in most forms of arthritis. Even many rheumatoid arthritis patients find that aspirin works as well as prescription medications with fewer side effects; and it’s much cheaper.

The drugs that are giving aspirin a run for its money are the newer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Medipren), naproxen (Naprosyn), piroxicam (Feldene), sulindac (Clinoril) and indomethacin (Indocin). The newer NSAIDs are said to have the advantages over aspirin of better tolerance, less gastroin­testinal distress, once-daily dosing (piroxicam), general variety of choices, and that they cause merely reversible blood problems, as opposed to salicy­lates, which can cause irreversible problems. But the FDA asserts that the safety of one NSAID can’t be clearly distinguished from another; and in some cases, the newer NSAIDs are actually less safe than aspirin. The Medical Letter warns that all NSAIDs (including aspirin) inhibit the syn­thesis of prostaglandins that are necessary to regulate kidney blood flow, nitration, and sodium and water excretion. In patients with kidney disease, heart failure, or cirrhosis, kidney toxicity can occur after only a few days of therapy, and the result can be fatal. This can also happen in patients taking diuretics to treat high blood pressure. For this reason, patients regularly tak­ing any NSAIDs are advised to have periodic checkups to determine their white blood-cell counts and other blood factors.

Concerning the claim that the nonaspirin NSAIDs are easier on the stomach than aspirin, a 1986 British study found that people over 60 who took these drugs were three times as likely as nonusers to be hospitalized with bleeding gastric and duodenal ulcers.104 Concerns about these side effects led the FDA to require new labels for all NSAIDs, which now must state in part:

Serious gastrointestinal toxicity such as bleeding, ulceration, and per­foration can occur at any time, with or without warning symptoms, in patients treated chronically with NSAID therapy.


For lupus and ulcerative colitis, sufferers should avoid both aspirin and other NSAIDs, due to the higher risk of kidney or intestinal damage for these patients.


For severe rheumatoid arthritis and other arthritic pains for which none of the foregoing works, steroid drugs such as hydro­cortisone, prednisone, or dexamethasone may be given. The steroids are powerful anti-inflammatories, but again they don’t cure arthritis. Joint destruction continues although pain is relieved. And steroids can have quite serious side effects, including ulcers. Ideally, they should be given only in small doses on alternate days for only one or two months at a time; but symptoms can become worse when the drugs are stopped than before the patient started on them, so he is liable to wind up on them indefinitely. As a result of this problem, steroids are now recommended only short term for emergencies.


Some arthritis specialists believe the progression of rheumatoid arthritis can be slowed if large doses of certain drugs called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs are given early in the disease. These drugs include gold, given either by mouth or injection; hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), an antimalarial drug; and chemotherapeutk drugs that suppress the immune response, for example cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), methotrexate, and azathioprine (Imuran). However, there is lit­tle evidence to support the claims that these drugs actually slow arthritis progression. And the drugs’ side effects can rival the disease. Gold can cause skin rashes, blood disorders, kidney and liver damage, and acute attacks of arthritis. Chloroquine must be taken in high doses to be effec­tive, and these doses can cause irreversible damage to the eyes, resulting in blindness. Immune-suppressing drugs cause damage to the bone marrow (resulting in blood disorders) and deterioration of the muscles.

Arthritis Treatment

A preferable drug in the disease-modifying category is colchicine. Side effects have been attributed to it, but it’s a derivative of a natural plant—saffron—and many users swear by it.

Another drug often given for severe rheumatoid arthritis is D-peni-cillamine. It, too, has side effects, and how it works isn’t certain. However, D-penicillamine is a chelating agent; and rheumatoid arthritis patients have been found to have abnormally high levels of copper, lead, and mer­cury. Chelators are chemicals that pull heavy metals from the blood. Some authorities feel arthritis pain is the result of heavy metal accumu­lation in the joints. The drug evidently works by eliminating this toxic buildup. Side effects may have resulted because, not understanding the mechanism, doctors have given the drug for too long a time. Only enough chelation is necessary to remove toxic metal accumulation. Beyond that, it can do harm.

Filed Under: Health & Personal Care


About the Author: Andrew Reinert is a health care professional who loves to share different tips on health and personal care. He is a regular contributor to MegaHowTo and lives in Canada.

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