Dimethyl sulfoxide (C2H6OS), or DMSO, is a sulfur-containing organic compound. DMSO occurs naturally in vegetables, fruits, grains, and animal products. DMSO was first synthesized in 1866 as a byproduct of paper manufacturing. Therapeutic interest began in 1963. DMSO was reported to penetrate through the skin and produce analgesia, decrease pain, and promote tissue healing. DMSO is available for both non-medicinal and medicinal uses. The major clinical use of DMSO is to relieve symptoms of interstitial cystitis.
Potential toxic effects to the lens of the eye have been reported in animals but no effects have been noted in humans. Topical application has been associated with redness and inflammation of skin, and a garlic-like taste and odor on the breath have been reported.
DMSO has been used to treat amyloidosis, diabetic ulcers, extravasation, erosive gastritis, and ischemia prevention in surgical flaps, but well designed clinical trials are lacking. Because of the limited scientific evidence, whether DMSO provides effective treatment of patients with closed head trauma, herpes zoster, tendopathies, and complex regional pain syndrome will require more research.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Interstitial cystitis (chronic bladder infection):
Intravesical DMSO is U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved for interstitial cystitis when given by a qualified healthcare professional. DMSO may work when other treatments have failed.
DMSO may change the course of amyloidosis if treatment is started early. However, there is not much scientific support for this claim.
Currently, there is not enough scientific evidence available to recommend for or against the use of topical DMSO for diabetic ulcers.
Extravasation (drug accidentally going outside of a vein):
DMSO applied to the skin may prevent tissue death after extravasation of anticancer agents. It can be applied alone or with steroids. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
When used with acid-blocking drugs (like ranitidine), DMSO may help treat gastritis. More research is needed before this treatment can be recommended.
Herpes zoster (shingles):
DMSO may help treat herpes zoster. This treatment may work even better when used with the drug idoxuridine. Further research is necessary before a recommendation can be made.
Inflammatory bladder disease:
DMSO may relieve the symptoms of inflammatory bladder disease. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
DMSO may help treat high pressure in the skull (increased intracranial pressure), but most research is vague and results are conflicting. The risks may be greater than potential benefits.
Pressure ulcers (prevention):
Based on early research, massage therapy with a DMSO cream does not appear to effectively prevent pressure ulcers (also called bedsores). More research with DMSO alone is needed.
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy:
Little research has been done to see if DMSO helps reflex sympathetic dystrophy. More studies in this area are needed before a decision can be made.
Applying DMSO to the skin may help rheumatoid arthritis. More study is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.
Surgical skin flap ischemia:
One trial suggests that DSMO improves lack of blood flow (ischemia) in surgical flaps. More research is needed to confirm these results.
A randomized, controlled, double-blind trial evaluating DMSO for acute tendopathies found a positive effect. Conclusions cannot be made without further trials.
DMSO does not seem to help treat scleroderma and is therefore not recommended.