A new study published in the November issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing found that almost 25 percent of patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis used a procedure known as complementary and alternative therapy (CAT) to help them better manage their condition.

Researchers said they interviewed 250 patients between 20 and 90 years old, with more than two-thirds, or 67 percent, having developed rheumatoid arthritis. The rest had developed osteoarthritis.

Of them, scientists found that 23 percent used CAT in conjunction with prescribed medications, and that just under two-thirds (64 percent) believed the therapy was beneficial and reported improvements in pain intensity, sleeping patterns and activity levels.

Mind and body medicine

“Our study underlines the importance of healthcare professionals being knowledgeable about the potential use of CAT when providing medical care to patients with arthritis,” lead author Prof. Nada Alaaeddine, chief of the Regenerative and Inflammation Lab in the Faculty of Medicine, University of St. Joseph, Beirut, Lebanon, said.

“Although CAT might have beneficial effects in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, patients should be cautious about their use and should tell their healthcare providers that they are using them to make sure they don’t conflict with their existing treatment,” Alaaeddine added.

According to the National Institutes of Health, many Americans utilize complementary and alternative medicine “in pursuit of health and well-being.”

It’s like “mind-and-body medicine,” NIH says.

“Mind and body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior, with the intent to use the mind to affect physical functioning and promote health. Many (CAT) practices embody this concept – in different ways,” the health agency says. Some of those techniques include meditation, acupuncture and “various styles of yoga.”

CAT use is increasing slowly

Some of the key findings of the Lebanese study include:

— The average age of CAT users was 45, or significantly younger than the average age of the non-CAT user, which was 57.

— Usage of CAT was higher in patients with osteoarthritis at 29 percent than those with rheumatoid arthritis (20 percent).

— The most common CAT technique used was herbal therapy (83 percent), followed by exercise (22 percent), massage (12 percent), acupuncture (three percent), yoga and meditation (three percent), and dietary supplements (three percent).

— Fewer than one-quarter of patients using CAT (24 percent) sought additional medical care due to possible side effects, but those conditions were not serious and were reversible.

— Researchers said the most common side effects of CAT usage included skin problems (16 percent) and gastrointestinal problems (nine percent).

— A majority of patients did not inform their healthcare provider they were using CAT (59 percent).

— CAT users were asked to rate the amount of pain they experienced – the percentage who said they experienced no pain increased from 12 percent to 43 percent following CAT, while the number who were able to sleep all night rose from nine percent to a staggering 66 percent.

— In addition, users reported an improvement in their daily activities. Specifically, the percentage who said their pain did not limit them in any way rose from three percent to 12 percent, and the percentage who said they were able to do everything they wanted – while experiencing no pain – doubled, rising from 26 to 52 percent.

“CAT use is increasing and this study shows that it provided self-reported benefits for patient with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis” Alaaeddine said.

“It is; however, important that patients discuss CAT use with their healthcare practitioner and that they are made aware of possible side effects, in particular the possible interactions between herbal and prescribed drugs.”