Vitamin D-tail – a guest blog from Eileen in Italy

April 12, 2013 at 10:44 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai | 1 Comment
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I’m calling this Vitamin D-tail because it’s vitamin D in detail. I suppose it could have been Vitamin D-tale – the tale of vitamin D, but anyway, after my rambling and vague post about Vitamin D, Eileen in Italy posted a rather long comment, which I suggested we expand into a guest post, and here it is.

Eileen is a graduate of physiology and worked in the NHS before moving abroad. She has polymyalgia rheumatica, and spends a lot of her time making medical stuff comprehensible for other sufferers. As you will see below, she has a knack for this!

Vitamin D – you’ll probably have seen a lot in the media over the last few months. You might even have asked your doctor about it and probably got a dismissive “You get all you need from diet and sun and it isn’t important.” In the words of the song: “that ain’t necessarily so!”

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin – it is something called a pro-hormone and is made in the skin by the action of the sun’s rays on cholesterol and stored in the liver to be used to make a variety of different hormones. It is very important for the way the body uses calcium – without enough vit D you may have a low level of calcium in your blood and, in the long term, you may not build bone properly.

Why do we need it?

The original importance of vit D was seen as preventing rickets in children and it helps prevent osteoporosis in adults. However – that isn’t all: it is now thought that it is involved in many processes in the body and being deficient can give you aches and pains in your muscles and joints and contribute to depression and may be particularly significant in autoimmune disorders. More and more research is suggesting, too, that the amount we need is really much higher than what they have been saying for years.

Where do we get it from?

Many GPs still believe you get vit D from food – in fact you get less than 10% of even the amount they say you need in food. It is found in oily fish, salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, for example. It is highest in wild fish – and even then you would need half a pound of salmon every day to get what you need – but much lower in farmed fish so you would need more. Tinned tuna in oil has far less than fresh – and the “healthy” version in water has almost none left because of the canning process. Other than that you could have a 17 egg omelette for lunch, or a couple of kilos of mushrooms. When you see in an article that “fortified” foods provide vit D that mainly applies for the USA where milk, orange juice and cereals have vit D added to them. Not so in the UK where margarine is described as fortified – but only so that it has the same amount of vit D as butter!  The food with the highest level of vit D is fish oils – maybe great grandma knew something when she got the bottle and spoon out! But you must not rely on cod liver oil – it also has a lot of vitamin A in it and that is dangerous if you take too much.

The main way to get enough is being out in the sun: about 20% of your skin needs to be exposed to the sun between about 11am and 3pm in order to be able to manufacture enough. But there are problems with this in the modern world and living in northern climes. The skin factory is most efficient at the age of 20, from then on it starts to slow down gradually anyway until at age 70 it is at less than 25% capacity. As you get older, you wear more clothes and spend more time indoors during the middle of the day doing boring things like work, looking at that lovely sunshine through the window – which blocks the essential wavelengths of light. When you do go out you use sunscreen – many foundations now contain Factor 15 and even Factor 8 sunscreen reduces the amount made by over 90%. And we have had it drummed into us that we shouldn’t go out in the midday sun and always “slip, slap, slop”. Anyone living north of Turin in northern Italy is so far from the equator that between October and May they won’t make enough vit D from the sun – the sun’s rays have to strike your skin at a high angle to flick the switch to turn the machine on, once your shadow is longer than you are tall – the sun isn’t strong enough. The further you are north, the less you make. So that means that you have to store it up between May and September – and then you get a summer like last year! In children, all this is added to by the fear of letting children out to play and their desire to play on computers rather than on the swings. And if you have dark skin or a suntan – your skin factory takes even longer to make vit D.

What are the issues if we don’t get enough?

I live in northern Italy, just slightly north of the level of Turin, and it is reckoned by our local osteoporosis expert that even here more than 80% of the population (both men and women) are vit D deficient and that increases a lot of risks as they age. Obviously most people know about osteoporosis and resultant broken bones – but fewer know about its role in muscle health. Severe deficiency can lead to similar stiffness and aches to those that many people with arthritises are familiar with. A few weeks of very high doses may improve that dramatically. It is something that should always be checked to rule it out with regard to one particular arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, as the symptoms are so similar. There’s nothing to say you aren’t suffering from both, but improving your vit D status rules out one cause. As we age we tend to fall more (another factor increasing your fracture risk) and studies have shown that improving vit D levels reduces the number of falls and broken bones the elderly have as well as improving their balance in general, walking and ability to get up from chairs unaided. In fact, it is thought that simply making sure residents in homes are drinking plenty and improving their vit D would prevent a large proportion of the falls that are so common and can lead to hospitalisation.

Getting a test

A request to your GP to check your vit D level is often met with some degree of scorn but anyone with an autoimmune disease should have it checked because low vit D and autoimmune disease are associated but it isn’t known whether it is cause or effect – and everyone who is told to take “bone protection” medications (bisphosphonates or alendronic acid) should also have their vit D and calcium levels checked first because they don’t work if you are low on either and they can reduce your calcium levels even further and make you ill. It is stated in the drug information by the manufacturers – some doctors tend to think they know better. Someone I know was allowed to have her vit D checked with a very patronising attitude by the GP: “It’s very expensive you know, about £200”. It isn’t, it costs about £25 and, as a last resort, a hospital in the Midlands offers it to anyone by post as well as to NHS hospitals!

 What do you do once you know what your vit D level is?

The level at which you are said to be deficient varies from one NHS Trust to another. As an example, however, Gateshead Trust in the northeast of England recommends a range of 48 -144 nmol/litre as being adequate. Below 25 they say it should be treated with high dose vit D3 – and by high dose they mean 60,000 IU a week for 12 weeks! That, of course, needs to be done under medical supervision although if you are very deficient the likelihood of adverse effects is not very high. Between 25 and 50 they recommend supplements of 1,000-2,000 IU a day for 12 weeks, and it is easy and relatively cheap to obtain tablets for that sort of dose from Boots or Holland&Barrett. Once you are what they describe as “replete” you should continue with 800-1,000 IU/day, especially in the winter but also if you are not getting out into the sun much. Even with supplements some people find their vit D level falls quite rapidly so having your vit D checked every year or if any symptoms that disappeared with being given vit D return may be a good idea.

Be careful though: if you are on the standard “calcichew” supplements given to you if you take prednisolone, do not just take extra tablets to increase your vit D intake (whatever your doctor suggests). Taking calcium and vit D supplements together can sometimes cause kidney stones or “grit” which can irritate your bladder. You need some extra calcium because of taking prednisolone (it makes you lose more in your urine) but too much is not a good thing. If you need more vit D than the 800 IU in two tablets then buy pure vit D tablets and take both. You should not take more than 4,000 IU of vit D a day unless your doctor tells you to but 2,000 IU is a perfectly safe dose for most adults.

And if you want to top up your vit D the skin way: it is safe to stay in the sun with no sunscreen for about 10 minutes, or the time it takes to start to get a tiny bit pink and warm and Cancer UK has issued some guidelines for safe sun exposure rather than the previous “don’t go out in the sun” mantra. Low vit D has also been associated with depressive mood and with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) but going out in the sun for a walk will achieve a lot in terms of making you feel better. All the UK needs now is some sun!

A few references:

http://pain-topics.org/pdf/vitamind-report.pdf   Pain relief through vitamin D

http://updates.pain-topics.org/2012/07/vitamin-d-current-research-roundup.html Update

http://updates.pain-topics.org/2012/06/vitamin-d-prevents-falls-disability-in.html   ditto

http://www.sacn.gov.uk/pdfs/sacn_position_vitamin_d_2007_05_07.pdf

http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

http://ginportal.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/309253362b6246d18dc727bfede1f05a2.pdf

Palindromic Rheumatism – if you have been diagnosed, Arthritis Research UK wants to hear from you

April 10, 2013 at 11:43 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai | 1 Comment

Here is a message I received from Jude at Arthritis Research UK. They’re looking for people who have been diagnosed with this rare form of arthritis, so if you have it, please fill in their survey (link below):

Hi Pollyanna

It seems good information about a rare form of arthritis called palindromic rheumatism is hard to come by, but I’m hoping some of your readers and bloggers can help put that right. I’m doing some work for the charity Arthritis Research UK, which wants to develop information materials to help people with palindromic rheumatism manage their condition. As a first step, we want to talk to people who have been diagnosed with the condition. It’s characterised by unpredictable flares of pain and swelling in joints, which return to normal between attacks, and can have life-changing implications. As you rightly say, everyone is different, and with so little research into palindromic rheumatism, we want to hear at first hand what it’s like to live with it, how it affects people and what their experiences of getting a diagnosis were. We’d like to invite anyone among your contributors and readers who has palindromic rheumatism to take part in a survey between April and July 2013. All they have to do is complete a short online questionnaire at http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/palindromic. If they agree, we’ll then contact some by phone to hear their palindromic rheumatism story in more depth.
Meanwhile, thanks for the very positive blog about RA.

Jude

Niggles and Grumbles

February 13, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai | 6 Comments
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I’ve got grumbley hands and feet. I’m not sure that I’d use this description to the rheumatologist mind you, but it seems to fit. I’m not in agony; in fact,I’m not even in constant pain, but if I overdo it then the hands and feet … and knee of course, how could I forget the knee … grumble!

I’ve been getting a lot more grumbling going on over the last few weeks than I’ve had for ages. I think it all started with the flare that I had between Christmas and New Year, and there have been niggles ever since.

It doesn’t seem to matter what I’m doing – and in fact my hands have been better today, back at work and typing, than they were over the four-day weekend I’ve just had. (Fabulous birthday weekend away, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!)

At least I’m not grumbling much about work right now – we’ve had two weeks of it being dead quiet, and now it’s gone manically busy! It would be lovely it was a constant steady flow, but I’m much happier with it busy and buzzing than dead as a dodo.

Well, I don’t have a rheumatology appointment until May, and things are nowhere near bad enough to make me subject myself to one earlier, so I suppose by then the grumbles will either have done what they usually do miraculously in time for a rheumy appointment, disappeared – or they’ll be bad enough that I’ll be able to have a proper grumble to the doc about them! In the meantime I shall just grin and bear it … or possibly grumble and bear it.

PIP gives me the pip!

February 1, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai | 2 Comments
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The Disability Living Allowance in the UK is being replaced by PIP – the Personal Independence Payment; double-speak if ever I heard it! Everyone who currently claims DLA will have to be re-assessed for PIP, and Arthritis Care estimates that 42% of people who can currently get a car through the Motability scheme and higher-rate DLA will lose their cars through PIP.

At the same time I have just heard that the district nurses in a region near to us are no longer going to be doing what district nurses do, visiting  people in their homes! So people are going to lose cars and then find themselves unable even to see a nurse. Apparently if people absolutely cannot, by any other means, get into the surgery, they will be provided with a courtesy car. I’ll be interested to see how that works out, and how much it costs, considering the district nurses only ever visited the people who couldn’t get into the surgery anyway!

The other thing that PIP is going to do to ‘save money’ is to change the current DLA walking test from inability to walk 50 metres ‘reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely fashion’, to someone who can’t walk 20 metres ‘reliably’. Reference to repeatability has notably been removed, so that anyone who can walk 20 metres on the day of their test will presumably not get PIP, even though with things like RA or MS, one might be able to walk a mile one day and no where the next.

2o metres is patently absurd; it seems to suggest that so long as someone can walk as far as the corner of their road or a neighbour’s house then they are fit enough to fend for themselves. According to the MP briefing prepared by a campaign group that Arthritis care are involved in, the 20m has not been based on any medical or scientific evidence; so it’s clearly a cynical decision to save money.

But in reality, much like the district nurses, how much money will it save? People who have their independence taken away from them will obviously be calling more on public services for help. The money will be being spent; just not from the same budget pot.

Who is this going to help?

Agree? Please write to your MP and tell them what you think and why. You can use the Arthritis Care Hardest Hit Campaign tool to help. All you have to do is put in your name and address; the tool will find your MP, produce a letter, which you can edit if you wish, and then you just press send to get it emailed over. It takes seconds – and it could make a real difference.

wheelchair access

Photo by Leo Reynolds, (C) September 4 2010, licensed under Creative Commons

A new drug target identified for RA

January 31, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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A protein called IRHOM2 has been identified as a possible new target for drugs aimed at treating RA, and could be useful for those who do not respond to anti-TNFs or even eventually replace anti-TNFs altogether. The full article on IRHOM2 can be found here, but here’s a short summary.

TNF or tumour necrosis factor has a useful purpose in the body; it is a signalling protein and it signals the body to produce a protective inflammatory response. Thus if a part of you is infected, TNF starts the process of inflammation, which takes immune response cells to the appropriate area in the blood, and they start to attack the disease-causers. In this case inflammation is a good thing.

However, when too much TNF is produced, immune cells start to act on things they shouldn’t, like our joints – leading to RA.

Anti-TNFs attack TNFs directly, and do a mighty fine job for many people, but they are toxic and can have nasty side effects.

IRHOM2 is a protein that helps to release TNF from where it sits harmlessly and inactively on the surface of cells, so attacking IRHOM2 should have the same effect as attacking TNF – reducing in TNF release and therefore reduction in inappropriately active immune cells, and so reduction in RA symptoms.

It is hoped that drugs targeting IRHOM2 would be less toxic, because they will only block TNF release from the specific cells that contribute to joint damage, and they could be an alternative for those who don’t respond well to anti-TNFs.

There is, of course, a long way to go. This is just the identification of a possible target. The next step is to find something that will actually block IRHOM2 and be safe to use in patients. Then there will be the long, slow plod (quite necessary for safety reasons!) through clinical trials, with no doubt a few failures along the way – but some years down the line this could be a real breakthrough. Let’s hope so!

 

p.s. I do hope this makes sense! I’m really, really tired and I haven’t had hubby proofread it yet!

Knee flare

December 29, 2012 at 11:22 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 6 Comments
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Well, whadayaknow? A knee flare turns out to be some kind of strange ‘dance’ move: you can see it here. Unfortunately it’s also what I’m having one of right now …. I’m dancing too: from the freezer to the microwave and the microwave to the freezer … mostly on one leg.

It started on Boxing Day evening – that’s Wednesday for those outside the UK! Just mild stiffness going upstairs – didn’t really think too much about it. Progressed to serious stiffness Wednesday morning which I assumed would pass of during the day. It didn’t. It got worser and worserer. By Wednesday evening it had started to be painful as well as stiff. I took paracetamol and grumbled.

Thursday my mum was doing a lunch for us and some friends. Splendid meal, good company but my sociability somewhat dampened by knee pain. That evening Mum asked if I did ice-packs or heat packs? DUHHH! Why oh why do I always forget those things?!

Pretty much since then I’ve either had an ice pack or a heat pack on it, or I’ve been moving around on it. It makes a huge difference. I can’t believe how stoooopid I am sometimes! But on the bright side, at least it’s starting to mend – or if it isn’t, then at least I’m starting to feel better.

Blogroll tidy-up

December 18, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments

I have had a bit of a tidy-up of my blogroll. I’ve removed most of the blogs of people who haven’t posted for over a year – but if you’re someone who just posts really infrequently but still has a ‘living’ blog, and you’re miffed that you’re not on there any more, just drop me a note and I’ll put you back on! :-)

I have also added a few ‘new’ blogs – not new at all really, but new to me, in particular a couple about other forms of arthritis than RA. And I have finally got around to adding Carla, who should have been added AGES ago – sorry Carla, but at least I got there in the end!

Want to recommend a blog that’s not on here? I’d be delighted to hear from you. It might take me a while to get round to adding it, but I will do so … one day!

Second shoulder injection

December 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, fibromyalgia, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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Well, I’ve had my second shoulder injection. It was a week or so ago now, and it’s definitely working. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re a heck of a lot better than they have been.

This was an injection into the tendon, not the joint, guided by an ultrasound scan so they could see exactly where the steroid injection needed to go.

The advice in advance with this one was don’t drive and do rest for 48 hours, so hubby kindly took me into the hospital on his day off. We decided to go a whole hour early in case of parking difficulties, so of course we parked with ease! But when we came out an hour later, it was heaving and I was really glad we’d made the decision to go early.

I don’t know why they bothered sending out instructions in the letter to wear loose and washable clothing, since it turned out I had to take off the top half and put a gown on anyway, because my bra strap  was in the way!  That was only mildly embarrassing, when the gown flapped about because the nurse couldn’t find the tabs to do it up!

Then I sat down facing the radiologist and the screen, as instructed, and he scanned the shoulder with ultrasound. He confirmed the tendon was indeed inflamed, pretty much exactly where I thought it was, but happily not torn. Then he got me to put my arm in an incredibly uncomfortable position and keep it there, and took out a scarily huge needle. ‘Focus on something else, Polly’ I told myself as it came towards me.

‘Just a little scratch,’ said the doctor, cheerfully.

It was more than a little scratch but not madly painful. ‘Don’t think about the BIG, SCARY NEEDLE Polly’ I said to myself, ‘ la, la, la, think of little gambolling lambs and mountain streams. La, la, la …’

‘Look,’ said the doctor cheerfully, ‘You can see the needle on the screen!’

Mmm, thanks mate, just what I wanted! And sure enough, there it was, a long, straight stiletto floating about in the various incomprehensible (to me) wavy lines of the ultrasound. Actually it was quite fascinating to watch – for a bit. Then it started to jigger about alarmingly, and whether it really was jiggering about inside me, or whether I just thought it was and it caused me to tense up, I don’t know, but suddenly it was really, really painful. I must have made a that’s really, really painful face because the doctor realised it was hurting and said he’d stop for a bit.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I have a ruddy great needle in part of my anatomy I’d rather just press on, so to speak, and get the job done, especially if the alternative is to sit and rest for a minute with the needle still stuck inside me – so I said no, it was fine, and he carried on. Actually the pain did diminish, so perhaps I had just tensed up for a bit.

While this was going on another doctor came into the room and apologised for having been absent. ‘No worries,’ said the radiologist, ‘you haven’t missed anything. It’s just a shoulder. Boring.’

I gave a little involuntary chuckle, which went straight over the doc’s head but the nurse quickly added, ‘Not that we’re saying you’re boring!’

At that the radiologist did have the grace to look mildly embarrassed, and he said, ‘Oh believe me – it’s good to be boring! We do hundreds of these procedures so I know exactly what I’m doing. You don’t want something rare!’

Well, that was fair enough I thought.

‘By the way,’ I said, ‘when the instructions say “rest for 48 hours,” what exactly does that mean?’

‘Whatever you want it to mean,’ said doc with a kindly smile. ‘There’s no scientific basis to it. Just see how you feel and what you feel like doing.’ So I did. They day after the injection it didn’t hurt much so long as I did nothing but veg about and be a couch potato, but it did hurt if I did ANYTHING with it. So I didn’t do anything with it. I watched an entire season of Dollhouse (thanks Maggie) and let hubby wait on me when he got home! The following day I thought, ‘I’m fine – I’ll go into work’ so I did.

MISTAKE! Two hours at work and my shoulder was in a lot of pain – so I went home again. (Advantage of being the boss!) By the next day it really was much better and it’s continued getting better and better so far – so flippers crossed that will continue!

 

Shoulder injection has worked … a bit …

November 7, 2012 at 9:32 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai | 3 Comments
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When I had that shoulder injection I was finding it very hard to pinpoint exactly where the pain was, but I know it was kind of ’round the back’. Well … the pain round the back has gone, the mobility is improved but not great, but now I can exactly pinpoint the pain that remains and it’s to the side/front! I still can’t lift the shoulder much above the horizontal.

I went to see my GP about it last week and she’s put me forward for a scan. I was rather hoping for another injection but she says it’s too soon as, since there has been some improvement from the one I had, it should still be working away and might start to improve the other bit too. I rather doubt that, but she’s the doc, so we shall see!

The other thing she said was that if they do the scan and can see the exact spot that is inflamed, they can do the injection there and then and be sure that it’s in just the right place. And being the NHS, by the time the scan comes through I will certainly have left enough time between injections!

So for the moment it’s a waiting game … again!

In the meantime I have my second cold of the winter, and it’s not even supposed to be winter yet. <sigh, achoooooooooooo=””> I’ve also had an unpleasant flare through most of September and the beginning of October, but that seems to be over now – phew. As usual, nothing whatsoever showed in the bloods. In fact, when I have my six-monthly rheumy appointment in December I’m expecting him to say ‘Oh, did you have a bit of a flare in July – your bloods are slightly up.’ I was 100% fine in July!

Crash bang wallop

September 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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I’ve been cruising along very nicely thank you for the last few months. I made the mistake of getting used to it I think … Great, I feel fine  … let’s get on with stuff then. Well, you only live once, people to see, things to do, natural history surveys to complete, courses to go on, friends to see … Spanish to learn, embroidery competitions to enter.

Next time I see my rheumatologist, I thought, perhaps we can talk about reducing the MTX.

When will I learn?!

It started a couple of weeks ago with sudden, severe pain in my right thumb. Then it went away. I didn’t see it as a warning sign – I’d got too used to being footloose and flare free. Then it came back … and then other bits started to hurt too … ooooooooh-k, maybe this is a flare, I thought.

And it was.

Fortunately not a terrible one – one of my flare-ettes/aka fizzles, but bad enough to act as a little reminder. It’s over now … I think … but I’m back to being careful …

Well, apart from botanical drawing class an hour’s drive away on Saturday, more natural history recording on Sunday, interviewing tomorrow …

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