It's so tempting for new arthritis patients to pick up any book that has "arthritis cure" in the title, or to be intrigued with products being sold as an arthritis cure. Who can blame them? Who wouldn't choose to skip from diagnosis to cure and be spared years of chronic pain and disability? Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
No Cure for Most Types of Arthritis
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
"It is important to keep in mind that there are many forms of arthritis, and a specific diagnosis of the type you have may help to direct the proper treatment. Although there is no cure for most types of arthritis, early diagnosis and appropriate management are important, especially for inflammatory types of arthritis."For example, early use of disease-modifying drugs, and especially biologic drugs, can affect the course of rheumatoid arthritis. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can make a difference in pain and joint damage.
"Arthritis Cure" Is Often Confused With "Remission"The term "arthritis cure" implies that the disease goes away completely. A cure would leave the patient with no lingering symptoms and no need for further treatment.
A remission is sometimes mistaken for a cure. A remission is defined as the absence of clinical symptoms. For example, remission of rheumatoid arthritis is defined as the absence of clinical signs of inflammation.
The American College of Rheumatology classifies remission as morning stiffness that lasts 15 minutes or less; no fatigue, joint pain, joint tenderness or pain on motion, or soft tissue swelling in joints or tendon sheaths; and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate less than or equal to 30 in females and 20 in males. While a very small percentage of patients in remission may be able discontinue their arthritis medications, over 95% need to continue on the medication to remain in remission.
Arthritis Cure? Yes and No.
We asked rheumatologist Scott J. Zashin, MD about an arthritis cure. He explained:
"There are many different types of arthritis. When someone speaks about a 'cure' for arthritis, you must take into account the type of arthritis. For example, there are several types of arthritis caused by infection, including Lyme disease and bacterial arthritis. Both can be cured by antibiotics. An arthritis due to a virus, such as Parvovirus, is a self-limited condition [runs its course without treatment]. Gout is a type of arthritis that can be put into remission by lowering the uric acid enough so that gout crystals do not precipitate in the joints and cause inflammation. Lowering uric acid can be done by avoiding foods high in purines or by medication such as allopurinol. While symptoms may never return, this is not a true cure because if the patient goes off their diet or stops taking medication, the arthritis returns."
According to Zashin, what may be even more intriguing is the theory that very early treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with disease-modifying drugs may possibly cure patients. "This theory is preliminary and only through extensive study will we know if very early therapy will actually prevent chronic arthritis," he said. "Many patients with rheumatoid arthritis go into complete remission with our current therapies. Unfortunately, with osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, there are no definitive studies showing that we can slow down or prevent the development of the disease -- only ways to lower the risk of developing osteoarthritis."
Scott J. Zashin, MD is a clinical assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and an attending physician at Presbyterian Hospitals of Dallas and Plano. He is the author of Arthritis Without Pain - The Miracle of TNF Blockers. The book is useful for anyone on, or considering going on, one of the biologic drugs.
Preliminary Criteria for Clinical Remission in Arthritis. The American College of Rheumatology. Accessed February 19, 2008.
Arthritis Basics. CDC. June 17, 2007.