This study assessed the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies in patients with early systemic sclerosis (scleroderma, SSc).
At the annual visit, SSc patients enrolled in the Genetics versus Environment in Scleroderma Outcomes Study (GENISOS) were queried about their use of CAM therapies and intended symptom target, including herbal or nutraceutical therapy, acupuncture, transcutaneous electrical neural stimulation, and mind-body therapy (relaxation, meditative, imagery). The CAM-user SSc patients were compared with matched non-CAM users over two years for database results of demographic, clinical, and health-related quality of life SF-36 questionnaires by using analysis of covariance.
Twenty-five percent of the University of Texas Medical Branch GENISOS group were CAM users, with an average age of 54 years, 89% female, 47% diffuse cutaneous involvement, 13.5 total skin score, and a Medsger severity index of 5.8. Over 70% of patients used more than one CAM therapy for over one year, independent of health insurance. Symptoms targeted included arthritis/arthralgia, pain, gastrointestinal dysmotility, and fatigue. Complementary and alternative medicine users had significantly higher mean mental component summary scores on SF-36 at baseline and year 2, (49 and 49.9, respectively), compared with non-CAM users (42 and 40.2, respectively; P < .01). At year 2, the CAM user group had significantly higher scores of SF-36 domains physical component, role physical, bodily pain, and vitality, whereas scores declined in the non-CAM user group.
In SSc, 70% of those in the CAM user group reported a long-term commitment to CAM therapies. Higher perceived mental functioning in CAM users might reflect more self-motivation to manage symptoms, and subsequently, promote practices that result in higher perceived physical functioning.