Q: What is your opinion of the pain reliever DMSO? I know it's used on horses to relieve tendinitis and arthritis. I've heard that it helps with sprains and arthritis in people, but I'm not sure how safe that practice is.
A: DMSO is a sulfur-based topical ointment or gel suspension that has an amazing ability to be absorbed through the skin and quickly combine with water-based tissues and provide rapid pain relief. DMSO also has the ability to draw water out of inflamed tissues and quickly reduce localized swelling. It's most effective on soft tissue injuries like muscle or tendon strain because they're plump with water.
It's been safely used for over 50 years to provide pain relief to horses and other animals. Other than causing garlic-like taste and breath and a pungent garlic-like body odor from its sulfur base, it's time-tested safe pain relief for animals and humans not allergic to sulfa or sulfur compounds. It doesn't have any issues with liver toxicity, kidney toxicity or gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeds — unlike traditional anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin, Advil and Aleve.
DMSO is available in many health food stores and veterinary supply stores as an over-the-counter topical product, but does not have an FDA approval for topical relief in humans.
The reason for that is unclear, though it is not because of safety concerns. It is FDA-approved for use as a pain reliever instilled in the bladder of folks with "interstitial cystitis".
The most likely reason why it's not FDA approved and promoted for humans is economics: there's little point in a drug manufacturer spending millions of dollars seeking approval for a drug available without a prescription.
Q: My husband lost both of his legs due to poor circulation. Since the double amputation, he's suffered with phantom leg pain. The pain pills don't help much. Is there anything else you can suggest?
A: Treatment of phantom limb pain is not easy. Since abrasion or excess pressure of the stump can trigger or aggravate phantom pain, a comfortable well-padded covering is very important. Pain medications, especially the codeine, hydrocodone or oxycodone types, are much more effective in treating nerve pain than aspirin, Advil or Tylenol. Another method of treating nerve pain is actually the use of anti-seizure medications like Tegretol or Neurontin — regardless of whether there's a seizure disorder. Anti-depressants like Elavil, Pamelor, Trazodone or Cymbalta can also help.
Dr. Mitchell Hecht is specializes in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: "Ask Dr. H," P.O. Box 767787, Atlanta, Ga. 30076. — R.H., Roswell, Ga. —N.R., Eau Claire, Wis.