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History of Research
The condition known as rheumatoid arthritis was given its present day name by Sir Alfred Baring Garrod in 1858. Identification of its unique symptoms and effects provided the foundation for further research. Next, research and clinical trials looked at possible causes in order to attempt to find a cure.
Early theories ranged from a hormonal disorder to a nutritional deficiency to a bacterial cause. Identification of a cause was deemed important in order to concentrate research on reducing or eliminating an individual’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Since this condition involves an inappropriate inflammatory response, the focus of clinical trials evolved.
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Focusing on Quality of Life
A 1985 study by the Albany Medical College and the State University of New York and published in the journal Lancet found that fish oil provided some relief for morning stiffness in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Participants also reported a reduction in tender joints. Research in this area offered a new way for patients to improve their quality of life.
Later, a 1992 study conducted by the Kalmar Hospital, Växjö Hospital, University Hospital, and University of Lund of Sweden and published in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology found fish oils could reduce participants’ use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The information gleaned from landmark rheumatoid arthritis clinical trials was opening new avenues of pain relief.
The concept that antibiotics may provide an answer lingered. A 2006 survey by the Road Back Foundation found that almost 90 percent of participants found relief from antibiotic therapy. The results are especially compelling in that antibiotic therapy proved a more effective treatment than traditional prescription medication. On the surface, the findings make sense because rheumatoid arthritis is an inappropriate immune response.
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Many health conditions are known to share common risk factors. Obesity, for example, can increase your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Research into rheumatoid arthritis has delved into the interconnectedness of health conditions and whether having a certain condition increases your risk of developing arthritis.
One link has been identified between rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease. The mechanisms are not fully understood, yet a 2002 review by the Arthritis Research Campaign of the University of Manchester and published in the Current Opinion in Rheumatology found that cardiovascular disease was responsible for half of rheumatoid arthritis patient deaths.
Other research has focused on nutrition such as vitamin D. Deficiencies of this nutrient have been linked to several autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. A 2010 study by the université Paris and the hôpital Avicenne and published in the journal Joint, Bone, and Spine found that supplementation with vitamin D produced therapeutic effects.
The early landmark rheumatoid arthritis clinical trials have given science a direction for new research into ways to improve the quality of life for individuals suffering from this painful and debilitating condition. A better understanding of the physiological mechanisms of the body’s immune system hold promise for better treatment options for these individuals.
Photo by Nick Wijnants, stock.xchng
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N. Goodson. Coronary artery disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Current Opinion in Rheumatology, March 2002; 14(2):115-120.
X. Guillot et al. Vitamin D and inflammation. Joint, Bone, and Spine, November 2010; [Epub ahead of print].
J. Kremer et al. Effects of manipulation of dietary fatty acids on clinical manifestations of rheumatoid arthritis. Lancet, January 1985; 1(8422):184-187.
L. Skoldstam et al. Effect of six months of fish oil supplementation in stable rheumatoid arthritis: a double-blind, controlled study. Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology, January 1992; 21(4):178-185.