CAM use widespread but not doing much for arthritis patients

Nearly half of all patients with rheumatoid arthritis are using some kind of complementary therapy but with no apparent effect on their pain levels, according to Australian data presented at the annual ARA congress in Melbourne.

The findings come from a review of data for 2899 RA patients in the Australian Rheumatology Association Database (ARAD) covering patients treated with biologics in the period 2006-2016. It found that 45.7% were using complementary medicines such as fish oil, herbal remedies or supplements.

Complementary medicine use was also common in 710 patients with psoriatic arthritis (43.2%) and 641 patients with ankylosing spondylitis (40.7%), the study by Ashley Fletcher, an epidemiologist and public health researcher at Cabrini Health in Victoria showed.

However the use of complementary medicines was not associated with any significant difference in pain scores, which were in the range of 39-42 for complementary therapy users compared to 37 for non-users.

The findings also showed that the kinds of complementary product used had changed over the last decade, with usage of glucosamine falling from 17.5% of patients in 2006 to 6.4% of patients in 2016. Likewise fish oil use was reported by 27.5% of patients in 2006 and 21.4% in 2016.

Among RA patients, complementary medicine use was most common among females (74% of users) and people with private health insurance (58%).

Mr Fletcher said his findings showed that complementary use among patients with arthritis was similar to or higher than reported in the general population, but did not appear to be associated with any reduction in pain levels.

His analysis also showed that 17.7% of the 175 young people with juvenile arthritis were using complementary medicines.

Mr Fletcher said it was apparent that complementary medicine use was still popular among people with arthritis, despite the lack of evidence for benefit.

“But when their pain scores are around 40% when they are on biologics perhaps it is not surprising that complementary medications are not doing much,” he said.

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