Latest Advances in Arthritis Management

Research into treatments for all types of arthritis is ongoing, and promising new advances occur all the time. Some are immediately useful; others will take years to fully develop into approved treatments. Here's the latest news.

Most of the advances in arthritis treatment over the past decade have focused on rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune and inflammatory forms of the disease, but researchers measuring the effects of osteoarthritis treatments have also seen good results.

Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, new biologic drugs known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) have made it much easier to control the disease and, in some cases, stop the progression. These drugs block various activities at a cellular level before the disease fully develops, thereby preventing joint damage and preserving joint movement in addition to reducing pain, inflammation and swelling.  Improved formulations of these drugs and new drugs that target different stages of disease development are in the pipeline.

Various preparations of chondroitin, a natural component of cartilage, have long been suggested as a possible treatment for osteoarthritis, particularly of the knee or hip. Its value has never actually been proven, however, because the results of clinical studies of this supplement have not been consistent. In more recent news, a study of 164 people with hand osteoarthritis, published in the November 2011 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, found that those who took a prescription form of chondroitin experienced significant relief of hand pain, improved function, and less morning stiffness over the course of six months than those who did not take the supplement. There was no improvement in grip strength.

Fish oil supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids have become a conventional treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. A 2011 study performed at University of Massachusetts Medical School found that people who regularly take fish oils also have reduced total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels in their blood and increased blood levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. The same effects were seen with the use of borage seed oil. This news of a potential double benefit is important because the risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) is as high for those who suffer from RA as it is for people with diabetes, who are at higher risk than the general population. The effects of fish oil and borage oil on blood fats and cholesterol appear to lower that risk.

For those who are diagnosed at a relatively young age, the progression of degenerative forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis of the hip, is particularly devastating. Surgeons at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and elsewhere now perform minimally invasive surgery to fix underlying disorders of the hip in the hope of delaying the onset or progression of hip arthritis that might otherwise result later on in these patients' lives.



Gabay, C. et al; "Symptomatic Effects of Chondroitin 4 and Chondroitin 6 Sulfate on Hand Osteoarthritis: A Randomized, Double-Blend, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial at a Single Center." Arthritis & Rheumatism Nov 2011; 63(11)3383-3391. Web. 23 Jan 2012;jsessionid=B407D085C6C12E5E14D3F29B4FEC1DBC.d02t01

Hospital for Special Surgery: Outsmarting Arthritis: Experts to Discuss Treatment of Hip Pain in Young Adults. June 2011. Web. 23 Jan 2012

Olendzki, B. et al; "Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis with Marine and Botanical Oils: Influence on Serum Lipids." March 2011 Web. 23 Jan 2012

Synapse-The Magazine of the University of Nevada School of Medicine: Advances in Rheumatoid Arthritis. Fall 2011. Web 23 Jan 2012