This Cheat Sheet offers advice on talking with your doctor about alternative therapies for arthritis, identifying false claims for alternative therapies, using supplements to ease arthritis symptoms, what to ask your doctor when considering surgery, and how to save money on prescription drugs. It also provides a list the acronyms medical professionals commonly use to describe the different types of arthritis.
How to save money on arthritis prescriptions
The high cost of prescription drugs can be a real problem if you have a chronic condition like arthritis, which requires a steady supply of medication. Luckily, you have several options for lowering the cost of your arthritis meds:
Review your medications and see which can be eliminated or replaced with over-the-counter varieties.
Ask your doctor for free samples.
Check out Medicare’s Extra Help program.
Look into patient assistance programs (PAPs).
Get a pharmacy discount card.
Buy generic versions of prescriptions.
Buy your pills in bulk.
Get a double-strength version and split the pills.
Compare prices at different pharmacies.
Consider using online pharmacies.
Getting the facts when considering surgery
Surgery can be the end of all your troubles or the beginning of a whole new set of problems. Before agreeing to go under the knife, ask your orthopedic surgeon the following questions:
- Do my symptoms and test results go hand-in-hand; is my diagnosis really confirmed?
- Does the type of arthritis I have respond well to surgery?
- Is the surgery a permanent fix for my symptoms, or will it have to be redone eventually?
- What results can I expect from this surgery?
- What risks are involved?
- What is involved in the post-surgery rehabilitation?
- Am I physically able to withstand the surgery?
- What does the future hold if I don’t have surgery?
Talking to your doctor about alternative therapies
Nearly 40 percent of patients use alternative therapies, but perhaps three-quarters of this group don’t tell their physicians what they’re doing. Talking to physicians about alternatives can be difficult. Here are some tips to help you discuss alternative therapies with your physician:
- Begin with the assumption that your physician will be supportive.
- Ask what they know about the therapy in which you’re interested.
- If your physician doesn’t know about the therapy you like, offer them information — you can get material from many organizations right on the Internet.
- If your doctor doesn’t approve of the therapy you’re interested in, ask for a detailed explanation.
- If there’s no time to discuss your alternative therapy during this visit, ask for another appointment — and pay for it, if necessary.
- If your doctor does approve of the therapy, ask if they will write you a prescription. Your health insurance just might cover it.
- If your physician gives you trouble, ask why.
- If your physician refuses to discuss alternatives with you and/or refuses to work with you if you’re using a nonconventional approach, get a new doctor.
Identifying false claims for alternative therapies
Most alternative practitioners are honest and sincere, but a few will tell you tales to take your money. Safeguard your health and pocketbook by watching for the following warning signs:
- The “miracle cure” that eliminates every form of arthritis and will allow you to throw away your crutches, stop taking your medicine, and/or ignore your physician’s advice
- The “secret formula” that can’t be revealed
- The remedy that’s based on only one small study
- Shady practices, such as demands for full payment up front or a promise that you won’t tell your physician what you’re doing
Understanding arthritis acronyms
We don’t assume that you’re a medical expert! Now and again, the abbreviated forms of several diseases are used by experts, so here’s a quick list of the common ones and what they stand for:
- AS: Ankylosing spondylitis
- DLE: Discoid lupus erythematosus
- GCA: Giant cell arteritis
- JIA: Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
- OA: Osteoarthritis
- PMR: Polymyalgia rheumatica
- PsA: Psoriatic arthritis
- RA: Rheumatoid arthritis
- SLE: Systemic lupus erythematosus
Easing arthritis symptoms with supplements
Research has shown that the following supplements can be helpful in easing arthritis-related symptoms, especially pain and inflammation:
- Bromelain: May reduce the swelling and pain of arthritis as effectively as an NSAID when combined with rutin (a citrus flavonoid) and trypsin (a pancreatic enzyme). Recommended dose is 80 to 320 milligrams per day, divided into two or three doses.
- Gamma linolenic acid (GLA): Helps decrease inflammation and pain, especially in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Recommended dose is 1 to 2 grams of GLA daily.
- Ginger: Has been shown to reduce OA knee pain, thanks to its antipain, anti-inflammatory abilities. Recommended dose is 225 milligrams of highly purified ginger extract twice daily.
- Glucosamine sulfate & chondroitin sulfate: These supplements are believed to work by increasing production of cartilage and the molecules that keep it moist while decreasing cartilage breakdown, thereby easing the pain of osteoarthritis and maybe even slowing its progression. So far, study results are mixed, whether these supplements are taken together or singly. Recommended dose is 500 milligrams of glucosamine and 400 milligrams of chondroitin, each taken three times daily.
- Grapeseed extract: May help combat inflammation seen in many forms of arthritis by slowing body’s release of inflammation-producing enzymes and preventing or repairing free radical damage to cells. Recommended dose is 75 to 300 milligrams daily for three weeks and 40 to 80 milligrams daily for maintenance.
- Niacin: Helps improve joint mobility in OA and reduce the frequency and duration of Raynaud’s attacks. Recommended daily dose for health maintenance is 15 to 20 milligrams in the form of niacinamide. Therapeutic doses are much larger and should be supervised by your doctor.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Helps relieve the pain and inflammation seen in RA by “dampening” the inflammation response. Some suggest taking omega-3s containing 3 grams of DHA or EPA daily, although it takes about three months before any improvement is seen.
- SAMe: Helps treat osteoarthritis most likely by repairing and rebuilding cartilage. Also protects DNA, counteracts depression, and may relieve pain as effectively as many standard arthritis medications, with fewer side effects. Recommended dose is 400 milligrams in divided doses, three times daily, for 3 weeks; then 200 milligrams twice daily.
- Selenium: Helps fight free radical damage to the joints and surrounding tissues. Recommended dose is 100 to 200 micrograms daily.
- Vitamin E: Fights pain by slowing the action of the prostaglandins. Also helps control free radical damage to joint tissues. Recommended dose is 400 to 800 international units daily.