Can You be Cured of Arthritis?

Ask a Doctor

My doctor just diagnosed me with arthritis in my right hand. I’m a pianist and I also use a computer for a living (I’m only 45). My rheumatologist said arthritis is progressive, but you can slow its progression with medication and lifestyle changes. Is there really no cure for arthritis? Will I have arthritis for the rest of my life? Is arthritis permanent?

Doctor’s Response

In general, arthritis cannot be cured and it is a chronic condition. There are many different types of arthritis, and some respond well to treatment while others can be disabling. The two main types of arthritis are inflammatory (such as rheumatoid arthritis, infectious arthritis, and gout) and noninflammatory (such as osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis).

There are numerous causes for arthritis including age-related wear and tear, autoimmune conditions, infections, and injuries. Treatments for arthritis depend on the cause and may include pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications, medications that suppress the immune system, and physical or occupational therapy.

It is the ultimate goal of scientific arthritis research that optimal treatment programs are designed for each of the many form of arthritis. This field will continue to evolve as improvements develop in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and related conditions.

In the future, medications may be available that can protect the cartilage from the deteriorating consequences of osteoarthritis. New treatments, such as antiinflammatory lotion and patches (diclofenac [Flector]) are becoming available for relief of joint pain symptoms. Innovative cartilage research will open the door for new approaches to an old problem. Investigators are evaluating the effectiveness of over-the-counter food supplements. Better treatment options are being developed as we understand more about our immune system and genetics.

Scientists throughout the world are studying many promising areas of new treatment approaches for inflammatory forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. These areas include more biologic treatments that block the action of the special inflammation factors, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNFalpha) and interleukin-1 (IL-6). Many other drugs are being developed that act against certain critical white blood cells involved in rheumatoid inflammation. Also, new NSAIDs with mechanisms of action that are different from current drugs are on the horizon.

Better methods are becoming available to more accurately define which patients are more likely to develop more aggressive disease. Gene profiling, also known as gene array analysis, is being identified as a helpful method of defining which people will respond to which medications. Studies are underway that are using gene array analysis methods to determine which patients will be at more risk for more aggressive disease. Finally, genetic research and engineering is likely to bring forth many new avenues for earlier diagnosis and accurate treatment in the near future. This is all occurring because of technology improvements. We are at the threshold of tremendous improvements in the way rheumatoid arthritis is managed.

For more information, read our full medical article on arthritis.

Robert H Shmerling, MD. Patient education: Arthritis (Beyond the Basics). 5 October 2017. 31 December 2018 .