A woman’s eye began to rot after she stopped medical treatment of her arthritis in favor of homeopathic therapies, doctors in Spain reported.
The 73-year-old came to an emergency room in Madrid after she developed pain in her right eye last month. She had a history of rheumatoid arthritis, but had stopped immunosuppressive treatment four years earlier in favor of homeopathic therapies.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease in which a person’s immune system inadvertently attacks healthy cells in the body. This leads to painful swelling and usually affects the joints, e.g. the hands, wrists and knees. However, other parts of the body can also be affected, including organs such as the lungs, heart and eyes.
In a case report published in the NEJM by Natalia Lorenzana Blanco and Nicolas Alejandre Alba of the Hospital Universitario Fundación Jiménez Díaz, the doctors said that an examination showed inflammation, hyperemia – where there is an excess of blood in the vessels supplying the eye – and “a marked thinning of the sclera”. At this point the white outer layer of the eyeball becomes thinner. In the case of the woman, the underlying layer of the eye had been exposed.
Tests showed elevated levels of rheumatoid factor, suggesting that it was arthritis. The team diagnosed her with necrotizing scleritis with inflammation. Scleritis is when the sclera becomes swollen, tender or painful. It is common in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Necrotizing refers to something that leads to the death of cells and tissues.
In an e-mail to Washington Newsday, Alejandre Alba said that necrotizing scleritis is a “known manifestation of rheumatoid arthritis”.
He said the disease was probably the result of the woman’s discontinuation of immunosuppressive treatment of her arthritis. “This appears to be the main cause, as the systemic activity of her rheumatoid arthritis was not controlled and the patient did not take effective treatment to control it,” he said.
What homeopathic treatment she was using is not known. The patient told the team that she dropped her off before arriving at the hospital. Alejandre Alba said that when they saw her, they were very concerned about her condition and did not look for details about the homeopathic treatment.
The woman was treated with steroids and an immunosuppressant because of her illness. She underwent eye surgery to repair the damage and began treating her arthritis again.
“At the follow-up three months after the surgery, the inflammation of the eye and the pain had subsided and the patient’s vision was maintained,” the doctors wrote.