SINGAPORE: When doctors examined the X-ray of a South Korean woman, they were surprised to see clusters of bright, white threads around the wrists and finger joints, according to a case report published in The England Journal of Medicine on Thursday (Nov 9).
The white lines seen on the X-ray were fine gold threads inserted into the skin using acupuncture needles as part of her gold thread acupuncture treatment.
The X-ray was taken in April 2014, when the then 58-year-old woman went to a rheumatology clinic for pain in her hands and feet.
The woman has been taking ibuprofen to ease her joint problems, which began when she was 18 years old. At age 48, she was diagnosed with and prescribed medicine for rheumatoid arthritis, a painful condition in which the immune system attacks the linings of the joints. If untreated, the condition can lead to joint deformities.
Dr Kyung-Su Park, the rheumatologist at St Vincent's Hospital in South Korea who treated the patient, noted that the "gold threads were inserted at almost every deformed joint" in her hands.
This practice of using gold as an alternative health treatment has "long been used to treat joint pain" in East Asia, the report's authors wrote. Oral and injectable gold preparations are also sometimes used.
Dr Park said the gold threads didn't seem to have worsened the woman's problem - or improved it either. Had she continued receiving "proper medical treatments with anti-rheumatic drugs" in the early stages of the disease, instead of using acupuncture, her rheumatoid arthritis might not have deformed her finger joints.
In addition, she had high levels of certain proteins in her blood that are known risk factors for joint deformities with rheumatoid arthritis.
The doctors left the gold threads in place. They changed the prescribed medicines she had been taking since age 48, and performed surgery on her feet to reduce joint pain.
Dr Park last saw the women a month ago and said that "she is doing well these days".