DMSO is a liquid that may possess anti-inflammatory properties. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that DMSO may help with arthritic pain, but there is no scientific evidence proving its efficacy.

While there are many arthritis treatments available, not all medications that companies market to treat the condition have approval for that purpose. One of these is dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). DMSO is a clear, odorless liquid that easily penetrates the skin and other organic membranes.

It is gaining commercial traction as a potential treatment for arthritis symptoms, mostly due to its ability to reduce pain and inflammation. However, it does not have approval as an arthritis treatment.

Despite anecdotal claims of its benefits, using DMSO for arthritis, especially as an over-the-counter treatment, could be dangerous.

Read more to learn about the medical uses for DMSO, how it works, its risks and benefits, and more.

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DMSO is a byproduct of the paper-making process. Originally, manufacturers used it primarily as an industrial solvent.

In the 1960s, scientists realized that DMSO could act as a way to administer topical medications. Because biological membranes can rapidly absorb DMSO, the substance can help the skin absorb medicines. It may also have pain and inflammation-reducing properties.

Probably due to its purported anti-inflammatory properties, DMSO has gained some commercial popularity as a treatment for arthritis. Some people claim that DMSO may help reduce pain and inflammation associated with the condition.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved DMSO, or any medication that includes DMSO-derived ingredients, to treat arthritis. It only has FDA approval to treat interstitial cystitis, a condition causing bladder pain.

While some research on DMSO for arthritis management may warrant further investigation, the current evidence is anecdotal rather than scientific.

With this in mind, people interested in trying DMSO for arthritis should speak with a doctor first.

In a 2018 review, researchers looked at 109 studies that reported harmful side effects of DMSO in humans. They found that most negative reactions were either short term or rare.

Some of the most common reported adverse reactions were gastrointestinal symptoms, such as halitosis, abdominal aches, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Other common reactions included dermatological skin reactions, such as rashes, itching, scaling, blistering, and pigmentation increases. There were also rare side effects that included cardiac and neurological reactions.

Additionally, the research indicated that side effects may have links to its administration method. For example, cardiac reactions only occurred when healthcare professionals administered DMSO intravenously, and skin reactions were more likely to develop following topical applications.

Furthermore, researchers found a connection between the dose size and reactions. People who took low doses reported no or mild side effects.

DMSO may also negatively interact with other medications. For example, because DMSO easily absorbs into the skin, using it with other topical medications could dangerously increase the amount of medication the body receives.

People interested in using DMSO for arthritis should contact a doctor before trying it or starting any new medication.

People should only use DMSO when a doctor prescribes it. The most common ways of use are topical, such as a gel or other solution, or intravesically, which involves going through the bladder.

Other methods include oral and intravenous. However, there is not enough research to determine their safety.

DMSO is also in common use as a chemical solvent in scientific and industrial communities. Medically, the only FDA-approved use for DMSO is as a treatment for interstitial cystitis, a chronic and often painful bladder condition.

There is still insufficient scientific evidence proving DMSO is both a safe and effective alternative treatment for these and other conditions.

Cancer and DMSO

While some people may experience relief from certain chemotherapy side effects, such as skin and tissue damage, using DMSO as an alternative treatment for cancer can carry risks. For example, a 2014 study explains how DMSO can interfere with chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin, carboplatin, and oxaliplatin.

Conversely, a more recent 2020 study shows DMSO may prevent the growth of and encourage the death of cancer cells.

Furthermore, the FDA has approved trametinib dimethyl sulfoxide — a combination of trametinib and dimethyl sulfoxide — for treating anaplastic thyroid cancer, melanoma, and nonsmall cell lung cancer. However, doctors only recommend the treatment if a person and the cancer they have meet certain criteria.

At present, DMSO only has FDA approval to treat interstitial cystitis. While there is some anecdotal evidence that DMSO may alleviate the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, there is no scientific evidence proving its efficacy.

A person interested in using DMSO for arthritis should contact a doctor.