Tags: aches, autoimmune arthritis, blog carnival, joint pain, knee, NHS, pain, physical therapy, physio, physiotherapy, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, sleep, stiffness, stress, tiredness, WAAD, WAAD blog carnival, work, World Autoimmune Arthritis Day
This post will be part of the Word Autoimmune Arthritis Day Blog Carnival. WAAD is May 19th 2014 but you can sign up for it now over at the site. This year’s theme is “A Day in the Life of an Autoimmune Arthritis Patient.” I hope I’m not cheating, but I’m going to describe two days – one just post diagnosis and one post-”control” where I am now!
4:00 am A day in March 2008
Wake up hurting – everything’s hurting. My neck and shoulders are very stiff, my back aches, my feet are killing me, one arm is numb and the other has pins and needles going from shoulder to finger-tips – but oddly only the little and ring finger.
Worry – a lot. Come on, I was diagnosed as ‘likely’ are in November last year, and definitely in February - so how come it’s still not sorted. OMG, what if it never does get sorted? Am I going to end up a wheelchair? Will I cope? Will hubby cope?
And where the heck is that physio appointment they promised me months ago?
4:00 am A day in March 2014
7:00 am March 2008
Wake up feeling completely un-refreshed and cursing myself for having spent an hour in the middle of the night worrying instead of sleeping. Worry some more as I creak my way gradually out of bed, gently testing bits of me to see how mobile they are. The relief of shaking off the pins and needles and then plunging my hands into warm water is enormous.
7:00 am March 2014
Wake up, blinking the ‘sleep’ out of my eyes. Slight stiffness. Hubby draws the curtains and says, ‘How’s the Penguin?’ ‘Stiff and achy,’ I reply, but then I realise that this is nothing to how it felt a few years ago, really NOTHING, and instantly feel a bit better.
7:30 am March 2008
Take a hydroxychloroquine and a diclofenac and wonder if they’re helping or not. I know I have to wait another couple of months to find out. It’s frustrating!
7:30 am March 2014
Take a hydroxychloroquine and an ‘arcoxia’ cox-2 inhibitor. I had to stop taking the diclofenac eventually after a nasty stomach upset – the arcoxia are supposed to much worse for the stomach, but so far don’t seem to be worrying mine!
8:00 am March 2008
The stiffness is just starting to think about wearing off. My left knee is very swollen and I hobble out to my car using a stick, to head off to work. I’m wondering how I’ll make it through a whole day!
8:00 am March 2014
Stiffness? What stiffness? Did I say I was stiff and achy this morning? Heavens! I’d forgotten. That wore off in about ten minutes.
9:00 am March 2008
Work - chat to colleague – drink strong coffee – work some more. Try to remember to MOVE because otherwise I freeze into place and struggle to get out of my chair when I need to later.
9:00 am March 2014
Work – chat to colleagues – drink decaffeinated coffee (this change has nothing to do with the RA, but I have rosacea and the symptoms of that are drastically decreased by drinking only decaf coffee rather than ‘caffeinated’), work some more. Move when I want to – it’s not a particular issue any more.
12:00 pm March 2008
Strewth I’m stiff – I got a bit too involved in some interesting work and haven’t moved out of my chair for an hour. Now I’m in the embarrassing situation of needing a ‘comfort break’ rather urgently and thinking it’s going to take me five minutes to un-stiffen enough to get there!
Time for the next diclofenac. Oh no! I’ve left them at home! Mad dash home in the car to get one, and then back to work.
12:00 pm March 2014
Lunch time – get up, stretch a bit, possibly say ‘creak’, which makes my ‘Junior Penguin’ colleagues chuckle, but really I’m quite mobile. Grab a bit of lunch and go for a mile walk – I know it should be longer … and faster … but it’s about what I can manage comfortably in the time I can spare and my knees aren’t right, though much better than they were a few years ago.
Happily no lunch-time tablets any-more – as life-style changes go, this one has had a surprising amount of impact ! I’d really hate to have to go back to trying to remember lunch-time tablets again!
3:00 pm March 2008
Really wondering if I can last until five. If I was on my own I’d be out of here – but I’ve got an employee now and I feel I should set a good example so I stay.
3:00 pm March 2014
Wow – I love this job – time for a bit of a coffee break and then back to some really interesting transcription about language usage … followed, for a bit of a change, by some transcription about sheep diseases! Variety – that’s what I love!
5:00 pm March 2008
‘I’m tired and I wanna go home’ but we’re really busy and I’ve promised someone to get some work back to them this week – I’d better stay a bit longer, even though I feel soooooo tired and achy!
5:00 pm March 2014
I’m outa here – life’s too short! My way of working these days is to delegate or subcontract what I can’t fit in between 8am and 5pm Monday to Friday. I’ve got about 15 hobbies (and one hubby… and friends) and I want time to enjoy them all… especially as, let’s be honest, I don’t know how long I’ll be able to carry on with some of my hobbies, especially those involving a lot of walking or using my hands! I don’t feel negative about it though – things are going well at the moment and I’m making the most of my free time!
6:00 pm March 2008
Still at work.
6:00 pm March 2014
Just leaving a friend’s house. I’ve popped round for a post-work chat and coffee. Feeling pretty fine.
7:30 pm March 2008
Just about manage to get some supper on the table. I only arrived home half an hour ago so it’s ‘oven fish and chips’. 7.5g of methotrexate tonight, with another diclofenac, another hydroxychloroquine and a lansoprazole (stomach settling tablet).
7:30 pm March 2014
We’ve eaten already – I like to eat early and have the evening to play in – especially as I’m usually in bed by 9:00 pm these days – I find an early night makes a huge difference to my general well-being.
Tablets were 17.5g of methotrexate (yeah, it’s gone up a lot but I don’t care – it’s working, and there’s still room for it to go up a bit more … although I do worry sometimes about what happens if/when I’m up to 25g and there’s nowhere else to go because my symptoms are too mild to get anti-TNFs etc. on the NHS!), and another hydroxychloroquine and a lansoprazole.
9:00 pm March 2008
Getting ready for bed – head still buzzing with what’s happening at work, worries about health, worries that I’m not finding time to do the things I love and speak to the people I love, worries, worries, worries. Heaven knows when I’ll get to sleep. Read a book for a bit to try to take my mind of it.
9:00 pm March 2014
In bed sipping a cup of decaf coffee that hubby’s just made me. Feeling satisfied that I’ve done a bit of Spanish ‘homework’ and managed quite a chunk of embroidery and a bit of crochet this evening, while watching an interesting documentary on the telly and discussing it with hubby later in some depth. Reading a good book on my iPad and feeling very relaxed.
10:00 pm March 2008
Oh no – I really don’t feel sleepy. I’ll read some more and try to relax. ‘Come on Penguin – light’s out’ says Hubby. ‘Just another five minutes’ I say, knowing he’ll be asleep in four and I can carry on reading!
10:00 pm March 2014
11:00 pm March 2008
Better put the light out. Toss, turn, toss, turn.
11:00 pm March 2014
1:00 am March 2008
At last … zzzzzzzzzzzz…..
1:00 am March 2014
2:00 am March 2014
Wake up – stiff, in pain, pins and needles – wriggle about until I feel vaguely comfortable, lie awake for 20 minutes and eventually drift off to sleep.
2:00 am March 2014
Wake up – roll over – zzzzzzzzzzz…………….
And so another day starts in the life of Pollyanna Penguin …
Tags: arthritis, doctor, folic acid, GP, joint pain, medicine, NHS, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatology
I’m Pollyanna right? I can do this glad-game thing! OK, I’m glad I’ve had to go to the surgery and the chemist three times this week because it’s given me an opportunity to enjoy more of the beautiful spring weather (in between the showers). I’m glad the doctor completely screwed up my last prescription in three different ways, because otherwise I wouldn’t have had that lovely experience I’m so glad about. I’m glad that I had to go in to the surgery reception tonight and point out that even after a conversation with the doctor yesterday, he had not sorted out the correct repeat date for my folic acid, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had that amusing conversation with the receptionist about kicking her cat.
Hmm … doesn’t sound too convincing, does it, really? Well I am at least trying – but it’s very trying, especially as I’m still at the tail end of a flare.
Here’s what happened – in brief – I hope, although I do have a tendency to waffle on, as you may have noticed.
I put in my repeat prescription as normal, picked it up Monday, got it home and realised that my folic acid was missing. As my folic acid was the only thing I’d run out of (I just ordered all the RA drugs at once to save another visit to the chemist) I was a bit peeved. I contacted the surgery reception and had a conversation something like this:
Polly: I’ve collected by repeat scrip but it doesn’t include my folic acid.
Receptionist: Ah … let me look it up. Oh I see, that’s because you’re not due any until March.
Polly: Yes I am, I’ve run out.
Receptionist: Oh no, you can’t have. You see it was issued last month, and you take it three times, on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Receptionist: So that’s three times a week
Receptionist: And they issue you twelve, so …
Polly: Yeeeeeeees …
Receptionist: <lightbulb going on> Oh! That is actually a month’s worth, isn’t it?
Receptionst: Oh … in that case it looks like the doctor’s made a mistake.
Well, to cut a long story short(ish) that wasn’t the only mistake he’d made, so although I was able to have my folic acid rushed through and pick it up in time for me to take it on Wednesday, I then realised there were two other things (non RA-related) also missing from my prescription! I checked the repeat prescription paperwork and it quite clearly said that those things were due now … and that the next batch of folic acid was due in … April.
So I phoned again and asked for a doctor to call me back to discuss this, which he duly did! I had a very pleasant conversation with him, while being driven to my mum’s house by a colleague in order to turn off mum’s faulty burglar alarm … but that’s a whole nuther story … and, after an entire repeat of the conversation with the receptionist – ‘You take it three times a week … we issue twelve … OH!’ etc. he assured me he’d change it on the system and also put through a prescription for the other two things.
Tonight I went to pick them up, feeling happy, relaxed and full of the joys of spring. I went into the chemist and sure enough they did have my other two items ready. Hurrah. Then, foolishly perhaps, I checked the paperwork. Instead of saying ‘Folic Acid – due 26 March 2014’ in nice, neat print, it said ‘Folic Acid’ and then 26 March 2014 scribbled in in biro over the printed ’26 April 2014’! All very well except that a) I could do that myself, and indeed when I next put in a repeat request the doctor (probably not the same one) would assume I HAD done it myself and just not issue me any, just like the last two months and b) what happens when I want some more in May or June or whenever and the issue date is for two months down the line again?
So I went in and, having honestly been really nice and polite to the receptionist the first time (and not mentioning breathtaking incompetence at all), and really nice and polite to the doctor (in spite of mum’s alarm going off in our ears in the middle of the conversation), this time I blew my top, flipped my lid and generally had a big squawk! The receptionist was lovely – didn’t apologise exactly, they never do I’ve noticed, and neither do the docs, probably terrified if they say sorry I’ll sue them for something, but was very helpful. She put in a note for the doctor saying it did need to be changed, please, and suggested I call tomorrow to find out if it’s actually been done. (She obviously has as much faith in the system as I do!) When I said that I was sick to death of going in there and had had to come in three times in the last three days she said, ‘You should try working here. I love my cat, but honest to God I go home each night and want to kick it!’ Don’t tell Enormous Cat, but this evening I knew how she felt!
Tags: appointment, blood test, disaster, NHS, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatology, rheumy nurse, walk-in
Here’s the thing. You may remember that I said back in November that the hospital were happy for us to have 3-monthly blood-tests for methotrexate? Well it turns out that I’d misunderstood. It appears that the hospital are happy for us to have monthly blood tests but only see the surgery rheumy nurse three-monthly. They are NOT happy to have methotrexate patients checked only three-monthly.
Well that would mean attending the walk-in blood-test appointments, and if you reading my most recent post on this you’ll know they’re a joke – or they would be a joke if they weren’t a tragedy. Today I attended my three-monthly test and had a wee chat to my lovely rheumy nurse about the monthly tests.
They seem to have put the blood tests on a Wednesday now, although my last notification was for a Thursday – perhaps it’s both now. If so, it’s not helping. The nurse freely admitted that the system was a disaster and I witnessed the rugby scrum as the board with the little numbers stuck to it was brought out by the receptionist.
Walking-sticks flying, old people beat others out of the way as they charged toward the board, knocking down the poor receptionist who was trying to attach it the wall. An ambulance had to be called to cart off the trampled people when the scrum was over.
OK, I exaggerated just a tad there, but not as much as you’d think!
In spite of the fact that there’s a notice up saying ‘Unless you have a really important personal reason or work, please don’t come in before 9:30 for the blood test’ I don’t think one person in the scrum was under 80. Now the thing is, from experience they all know that there’s going to be a 1.5-2 hour wait, and they have lives too – why on earth should they wait 2 hours just because they don’t have work – so I don’t blame anyone, of any age for coming in at 8:15 plus rather than 9:30 – but the whole thing is just a failure … and surprise surprise, staff are going off sick with stress – so would I be, I think, under the circumstances!
The only light at the end of the tunnel maybe, maybe, maybe, the hospital will see that people are not ‘complying’ with their monthly tests and then tell the surgery they have to reinstate tests with the rheumy nurse each month – I don’t suppose that will happen though. They’ll probably just tell the patients off instead.
It’s not the lack of rheumy nurse I object to – it’s the lack of an appointment time , and a sensible one at that, that doesn’t assume each patient can be dealt with in 2.5 seconds or whatever their crazy trial showed!
Tags: arthritis, doctor, GP, methotrexate, NHS, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, work
Something odd’s been happening lately. Several times I have suddenly smelt (and even tasted) hairspray – and once or twice it’s been a taste sitting at the back of my mouth/throat for hours and hours. The first time it happened I assume my colleagues (aka the junior penguins) had been drastically overusing the stuff, although neither of them looked lacquered (!) but the following day I woke up with the same thing, so I figured I couldn’t blame them after all.
Then it went and I thought no more about it for a few days … and then it came back! At its worst it’s really very unpleasant indeed – it makes everything taste slightly odd, even put me off my coffee for a short time, which is unheard of!
And then it went again.
I can only think of two serious possibilities for what might cause this, given that I don’t own any hairspray and it’s definitely not the JPs’ fault! One is a bit gross, so GROSSNESS alert, skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to be ‘grossed out’.
OK, here goes – I’m just getting over a nasty bout of sinusitis – and part of that is (or can be) having blood and puss form in the sinuses which then has to … erm … find a way out! The way out is either via the nose or down the back of the throat … and in my case (gross bit) it was doing both! Now blood has a sort of metallic taste that could, I feel, be confused (especially in my naturally confused state!) with the metallic smell/taste of hairspray. Of course you may have never tasted hairspray – lucky you! I’ve managed to ingest a bit now and then over the years when using it!
OK, that’s the gross bit out of the way. The other, very faint I think, possibility is the methotrexate. The posh name for an unexplained metallic, foul or unpleasant taste in the mouth is Dysgeusia and it has been reported, very rarely, as a side-effect of the methotrexate. However, the little I can find about it SEEMED to suggest that it doesn’t go away, and the only thing that makes it go is stopping the cause – i.e. stop taking the MTX. Well, it’s not THAT bad! I think the MTX has done me a LOT of good, so a bit of a bad taste in the mouth I can live with. Then again … it may be nothing to do with it anyway.
Needless to say, I won’t be popular with our stressed NHS doctors if I make an appointment and say ‘I’ve got this funny taste in my mouth…’ so I haven’t bothered. What I will do is see how thing are tomorrow morning, given that I take my methotrexate tonight. I THINK it’s been worst on Tuesdays the last couple of weeks, but am I just imaging that? I’ll find out tomorrow!
Tags: arthritis, clinical commissioning, GP, NHS, nurse, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology
Last time I had my monthly (now three-monthly) rheumy nurse appointment at the surgery, they happened to be running the first walk-in blood test clinic. These will run every Thursday – no appointment necessary, just turn up any time on Thursday, take a ticket, sit down, wait to be called and have your blood taken. No actual nurse appointment – in and out, ram in the needle, suck the blood, off you go. Well … that’s the theory.
My rheumy nurse had blithely assured me that they had run trials on this and each person could be seen and sent on their merry way in 1.5 minutes. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that this wasn’t quite the way things were going on the day I happened to be there. As I say, I wasn’t there for one of these walk-in tests – I just had the dubious pleasure of observing while waiting for my appointment. I am supposed to go along in a couple of weeks time for one.
Well I arrived around 8:30 for my appointment and saw a big board on the wall with raffle-ticket type numbers on it. They had obviously run from 1 to 50 but 40 of the tickets were already gone and the waiting room was alarmingly full. As I sat down a weary looking phlebotomist poked her head round the door and yelled ‘Seven … seven? Is number seven here?’ Number seven was not there – I think number seven had got fed up with waiting and gone home!
‘Eight … number eight?’ A grumpy woman got up and pointed out she’d been there since 7:30 that morning and had now waited an hour for one of these quick appointments.
When I went in for my appointment (dead on time, bless her!) my dear nurse looked a tad frazzled. ‘What IS going on out there?’ I asked, and she explained that this was the first run of this new system, they were two nurses down and the practice manager was on holiday! She was trying to fit in the odd ‘walk in’ patient on top of her full rheumy list, to help out.
Well – that couldn’t be helped, could it? I mean if people call in sick, you’re stuck, aren’t you? No one to blame. And of course the NHS can’t afford to employ locum/bank nurses to fill in – just one of those things, I thought.
Then I thought again. I know this place, I thought … ‘Erm … dear rheumy nurse,’ says I, ‘how long have these ladies been off sick?’
‘Oh, don’t!’ says the dear nurse, ‘Joan’s been off so long I can’t even remember and Julie’s recovering from an operation so she’ll be off a while.’
Right … so whose bright idea was it to start off this system KNOWING they were two staff down and couldn’t possibly cope? I don’t know but I can guess … someone who was on holiday, perhaps?
By the way, when I came out from my 15 minute appointment there was a nurse shouting ‘Ten … number 10 …’
So ‘we can turn these people round in 1.5 minutes’ had apparently turned into ‘We can turn these people around in … um … probably about 15 minutes’ given that there were two nurses doing this walk-in full-time and others stepping in when they could.
Number 43 was off the board by then – I wonder how long until they ran out of tickets – I overheard a receptionist saying, ‘Oh, I think they’ve all gone – you’ll have to come back next week’ to someone, before realising there were some tickets left, so presumably there are only 50 slots and ‘Turn up any time on Thursday will actually mean ‘Turn up before 9 on Thursday or you’ll be out of luck.’
Of course the new Clinical Commissioning system that is now in place but not in place and has no one actually running it is no doubt partly to blame … but that’s a whole nuther story …
Tags: arthritis, blood test, doctor, GP, hospital, methotrexate, MTX, NHS, R.A., rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatology, surgery
The hospital has decreed that patients on methotrexate for RA no longer need monthly blood tests – they will now be three-monthly instead. Now I don’t have a problem with having my blood tests every three months – as yet I’ve never had a single blip in my tests and if the hospital say three-monthly is safe I suppose I have to believe them and not just assume this is purely a cynical money-saving exercise: ‘Hey, what’s the odd life lost compared to a few thousand pounds saved, eh? Let’s do it! Right lads, down the pub …’
What I do have a problem with is the fact that they can’t book tests three months in advance, and yet we’ve been told to contact the rheumy nurse to make the next appointment. There IS NO WAY to contact her except by making an appointment to see her … a bit of a circular argument! My sensible and lovely nurse realised this straight away and in fact pointed it out to me with a comment on the lines of ‘I’ve told them ALL individually in reception, so don’t take any nonsense if they tell you that you should have booked it through me!’
OK, so that’s hopefully sorted out even before it becomes a problem, but how crazy that we can’t just book the tests when we see the nurse!
The surgery have also arranged monthly ‘walk-in clinic’ tests for the months we don’t see the rheumy nurse … but that’s a whole nuther story … a post to come in a day or so.
Tags: aches, arthritis, doctor, joint pain, knee, methotrexate, MTX, NHS, nurse, pain, physical therapy, physio, physiotherapy, R.A., RA, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), sleep, stiffness, tiredness, work
I’ve just been to see my GP about a very painful hip that’s been bothering me for about four weeks now and getting worse rather than better. (There’s little point in going until one is a few weeks into the pain as they just say ‘Come back if it’s not better in a few weeks’ if you do that!) I had been getting rather low thinking that the methotrexate increase wasn’t working – but in the back of mind I was wondering if it was arthritis at all. When I saw my rheumy nurse for the monthly blood test a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the hip pain and said, ‘Honestly, I don’t think it’s arthritis – I have plenty of movement in that hip. I could dance the can-can if I had the legs for it!’
Still, it’s funny how one’s mind can almost split into two on things like this; (well, my mind can, anyway). One part of me was thinking ‘Of course it’s not arthritis’ while the other part was thinking, ‘Doom, gloom, despair! My methotrexate increase hasn’t worked – there aren’t many options open to me if it doesn’t … will I end up in a wheelchair?’
Anyway, I saw the doc today and she confirmed that it’s NOT arthritis (or at least very unlikely to be, anyway) – far too much movement in the hip. She has referred me for physio for a dodgy ligament (technical term, that!) but the chances are, she thinks, that it’ll clear up in another few weeks by itself – so I’ll just cancel the appointment, because that’ll probably take three months to come through anyway!
The hip pain (and associated other pains including referred pain in the knee) has been making my life a misery and continues to do so. I have to limit the driving I do because it’s incredibly painful – it also affects work, but I’m very very happy it’s (almost certainly) not arthritis … though I would like to know what on earth caused the ligament to get upset because I haven’t done anything to it!
Tags: arthritis, consultant, diagnosis, doctor, flare, flare-up, hospital, knee, methotrexate, MTX, NHS, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology
So I’m increasing my methotrexate. Flippers crossed that all will go well, I won’t get any nasty side effects (except maybe appetite loss, which would actually be a great benefit!) and it’ll keep my disease in control for at least another five years … but what if it doesn’t?
Well I asked my consultant this at my last appointment. He’d said, ‘I’m happy to increase your methotrexate to 17.5 and then to 20 but after that we’ll have to start considering other things if that isn’t doing the trick’.
So I asked him point blank what other things? ‘Oh’ he said airily, ‘there are lots of other things available.’ Well it’s now or never I thought and said what’s been on my mind for a while: ‘I know about biologics, but I won’t qualify for them on the NHS, will I?’ He looked a bit startled and then had to admit that no, I didn’t stand a chance. With my fabulous blood results that never show anything wrong, I’ve got no chance of being offered them at all at the moment.
So … where would I go if the methotrexate doesn’t work or causes problems? Well, I can add sulfasalazine to the mix and see if that does any good. ‘Some people are on three DMARDs’ said the consultant, but even he didn’t sound really convinced about it.
So what it boils down to is that with the usual NHS foresight, if the methotrexate increase doesn’t work and then the sulfasalazine doesn’t work, I would have to wait until I was in a really bad way, unable to work, probably unable to walk (given that feet and knee are the worst bits of me) before they’d even deign to consider me for other treatments. As usual, let’s not make the effort to keep people OK and working – let’s wait until they’re falling apart before helping, even though surely doing it that backwards way doubtless ends up costing ‘the system’ more in the end!
Well, back to crossing those flippers and hoping it never comes to that!
Tags: aches, broken bones, doctor, GP, joint pain, NHS, osteoporosis, pain, polymyalgia rheumatica, R.A., rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, rickets, stiffness, sunshine, vitamin D
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
Tags: arthritis, Arthritis Care, Disability, Disability Living Allowance, DLA, Motability, MP, NHS, nurse, Personal Independence Payment, PIP
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.
Photo by Leo Reynolds, (C) September 4 2010, licensed under Creative Commons