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Rheumatoid Arthritis: In Depth

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What’s the Bottom Line?

  • Medical treatment for rheumatoid arthritis can delay or prevent joint damage—it doesn’t just treat symptoms. The sooner treatment starts, the better. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, follow your health care provider’s instructions on how to treat your condition. If you have joint symptoms that might be caused by rheumatoid arthritis, see your health care provider promptly.
  • To get the best results, don’t substitute other approaches for treatments prescribed or recommended by your health care provider. Consult your provider about adding any complementary health products or practices to your treatment program.

What do we know about the effectiveness of complementary health approaches for rheumatoid arthritis?

  • The amount of research on mind and body approaches is too small for conclusions to be reached about whether they can help relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
  • Supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), or the herb thunder god vine may help relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

What do we know about the safety of complementary health approaches for rheumatoid arthritis?

  • The mind and body approaches discussed in this fact sheet generally have good safety records. However, some may need to be adapted to make them safe and comfortable for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Thunder god vine may cause serious side effects, including male infertility and decreases in bone density.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned consumers about dietary supplements promoted for arthritis pain that are tainted with prescription drugs.

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. It occurs when the immune system attacks the membrane lining the joints. RA is more common in women than men and often begins in middle age, although it can also occur in younger people.

For more information about RA, visit the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website.

What the Science Says About Complementary Approaches for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Mind and Body Approaches

Dietary Supplements

Tainted Arthritis Supplements

The FDA has warned the public about several dietary supplements promoted for arthritis or pain that were tainted with prescription drugs. The hidden ingredients in these products could cause side effects or interact in harmful ways with medicines.

You can find a list of tainted arthritis/pain products and general information about fraudulent dietary supplements on the FDA website. It’s also a good idea to talk with your health care provider about any dietary supplement you’re taking or considering.

Other Complementary Health Approaches

More to Consider

  • If you’re considering dietary supplements, keep in mind that they can cause health problems if not used correctly, and some may interact with prescription or nonprescription medications or other dietary supplements. Your health care provider can advise you. If you’re pregnant or nursing a child, or if you’re considering giving a child a dietary supplement, it’s especially important to consult your (or the child’s) health care provider. To learn more, visit the NCCIH webpage on dietary supplements.
  • Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.

For More Information

NCCIH Clearinghouse

The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

Toll-free in the U.S.: 1-888-644-6226

tty (for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers):

1-866-464-3615

Website: https://nccih.nih.gov/

Email: info@nccih.nih.gov (link sends e-mail)

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)

The mission of NIAMS is to support research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases; the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research; and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases.

Toll-free in the U.S.: 1-877-22-NIAMS

Website: https://www.niams.nih.gov

PubMed®

A service of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals. For guidance from NCCIH on using PubMed, see How To Find Information About Complementary Health Approaches on PubMed.

Website: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

MedlinePlus

To provide resources that help answer health questions, MedlinePlus (a service of the National Library of Medicine) brings together authoritative information from the National Institutes of Health as well as other Government agencies and health-related organizations.

Website: https://www.medlineplus.gov/

Key References

Acknowledgments

NCCIH thanks D. Craig Hopp, Ph.D., and David Shurtleff, Ph.D., NCCIH, for their review of the 2019 update of this publication.

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

Last Updated: January 2019