Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis Historically

Aspirin to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis had no truly effective treatment for thousands of years. Natural aspirin-like substances used in large doses brought some pain relief to some patients, but at enormous cost in terms of side effects. In 1900, the Bayer company began to produce aspirin like we know of today.

Still, very large amounts of aspirin were needed to bring about some relief for RA, which brought dangerous damage to the digestive system and the well-known blood thinning effect. The stomach pain caused by large amounts of aspirin rivaled the Rheumatoid Arthritis pain. More significantly, it had no effect upon the crippling disease.

RA patients still ended up in whatever kind of wheelchair device was available to them. They would still suffer the various complications and they were still likely to die from complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis at a much earlier age.  Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment remained a realm for extremely creative experimentation. A myriad of substances – plant, animal, or mineral based – have been ingested, injected, or applied topically by RA patients.

Steroids to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis

In the 1950’s, cortisone, the first steroid medication, finally brought hope of relief for Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms. It was hailed as the miracle drug for Rheumatoid Arthritis. The side effects were not very immediate, but they were serious and irreversible. When the effects were recognized, it was too late for many patients who were permanently scarred by heart, skin, liver, bone, or eye damage.

Most cruel of all, the doctors had to take their miracle drug away, leaving patients with the same Rheumatoid Arthritis that they had had all along. Rheumatoid Arthritis tends to progress in most patients, so the RA may have continued to worsen, although it had been masked somewhat by the cortisone. Some doctors described the cruel joke in this way, “It was a miracle: the rheumatoid patients were able to get right up off the hospital bed and walk. They could walk straight to the autopsy table.”

Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis with drastic measures

In the following decades, doctors continued to experiment with everything from gold injections to low dose antibiotics to radically altered diets and herbal treatments. Anti-malarial drugs like Plaquenil and cancer chemotherapies like Methotrexate seemed to finally bring promise of altering the course of the disease for some Rheumatoid Arthritis patients. For a few, they actually brought on remission of the RA.

However, for most, the improvement was not considerable enough, especially when the side effects were weighed. Because they can be used to modify the course of the Rheumatoid Arthritis, these substances are referred to as “disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs” or DMARDs. While imperfect, rheumatologists began to realize a greater modifying effect if patients used a combination of DMARDs.

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