Tags: arthritis, consultant, diagnosis, doctor, hospital, NHS, nurse, nurse practitioner, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology
Something’s going on. Call me a nasty, suspicious, cynical penguin, but this just isn’t normal. I went for my routine rheumatology check – you know, the one where they say, ‘Oh go away – we’re not interested in you. Call those symptoms? Ha! I see people in a much worse state than you every day!’ (As though that has anything to do with the price of fish.) But this time it was different … It started off with the usual intro as though we’d never met before, but this time, as I looked at her blankly, she actually said, ‘Oh – we’ve met before, haven’t we?’ Then she looked at the notes – yes, the ones she’d taken in with her five minutes before she called me in, but obviously hadn’t read, and went, ‘Oh yes, I saw you last time.’
OK, not an auspicious start, but nevertheless, better than expected. But here’s where it gets weird. She asked how I was. I said fine. She said ‘scale of 1 to 10’ and I said ‘1’. She looked blank. ‘Well, is there anything you want to ask me?’
‘No, not really.’
‘Well … is there anything I can do for you?’
‘You can say, “You’re fine. Go away and come back next year,” and then I’ll do that.’
‘Yes, but … I mean surely … ‘
What’s going on here – you usually can’t wait to see the back of me.
‘I know – you haven’t had any x-rays for ages. We ought to check there’s nothing going on below the surface that we’re unaware of.’
Really – I was diagnosed in 2007. In 2009 I mentioned x-rays and how the guidance said they should be done a year afterwards and then every so many years – but it was poo-pooed. ‘No, you’re fine. We see worse people …’ etc.
I haven’t had any x-rays done since and it hasn’t worried anyone.
‘Good heavens, do you know, you haven’t had any x-rays done since you were diagnosed!’
‘Yes, I know.’
‘Well I really think you should have them done. I know it’s inconvenient coming in specially and I know they’re a bit of a pain, but I really think …’
‘Fine. I’m happy to come in.’
And then, to make matters even more Alice-down- a-rabbit-hole, she said they could arrange the x-rays to fit in with another appointment I had, to save on trips in. Hang on – when has the hospital ever put itself out to help its out-patients? This is new – but I’m not complaining.
Of course, in the next couple of days the universe got itself back on track. The appointment for x-rays arrived, on a completely different day to my other appointment and at an impossible time two days from when the letter arrived.
Ah – that’s more like the NHS I know and love, I thought. But wait … I emailed them (yes, they’re now so far into the modern age you can email them, woohoo) and said, ‘Sorry, can’t make that, but I will be in the hospital on this date for this appointment. Can you fit round it?’ And wha’-do-ya-know – they actually did!
So … did it work? Did they fit in? Did I run late for the next appointment? For answers to all these questions and more, you’ll have to wait for the next exciting episode of … Polly’s Adventures in NHS Wonderland.
Tags: arthritis, autoimmune arthritis, diagnosis, doctor, fatigue, GP, IAAM, joint pain, knee, methotrexate, MTX, NRAS, nurse, occupational therapist, OT, pain, physical therapy, physio, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness, tiredness
One of the many things people with rheumatoid arthritis battle with is the many misconceptions around the disease, the most ‘popular’ of which is that ‘arthritis is wear and tear on your joints’. One of the reasons this misconception is so hard to grapple with is that it’s true – sometimes. There are many, many kinds of arthritis – all arthritis means is joint inflammation. It comes from the Greek arthron (arthretes or similar depending on which dictionary you look in!) for joint, and –itis, a suffix used to indicate inflation, so it means inflamed joint.
What the word arthritis doesn’t tell you is why the joint is inflamed, and thereby hangs a tale! It gets even more confusing because arthritis tends to be split into the many kinds of ‘inflammatory arthritis’ on the one side, and osteoarthritis, which (is ‘wear and tear’ though by no means always fair!) on the joints, on the other. And yet arthritis means inflammatory, and of course osteoarthritis can cause some inflammation too, so it makes it even harder to explain the differences simply.
Perhaps the most important thing is that however unpleasant, debilitating and downright painful osteoarthritis is, it affects the joints and only the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis and the other related autoimmune diseases are just that – diseases, aka illnesses, and can affect considerably more than your joints.
The difference in a nutshell
Osteoarthritis (also known as wear-and-tear arthritis or degenerative joint disease) is caused by the cartilage between the bones in a joint wearing away or breaking down. The cartilage basically sits between the bones of a joint and stop them rubbing together. When they do rub together because the cartilage is worn away it can cause a great deal of pain and debilitation. It often (though by no means always) occurs in one joint, and may be a joint that has been used a great deal e.g. a blacksmith getting osteoarthritis in an arm joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis on the other hand (and that’s the one I’m going to talk about because it’s the one I know, as I live with it every day) is a chronic, progressive, inflammatory arthritis. Chronic means long-term, it’s there and, in this case, it’s not going to go away. Progressive means without treatment it’s likely to get worse. It is an autoimmune disease, whereby, for reasons not yet understood (though theories abound) the body’s immune system attacks some of the body’s own tissue instead of (or as well as) invading bacteria etc. In rheumatoid arthritis (RA) it is the synovium (joint lining) that is the main target of attack, but many other organs can be affected too.
Spot the difference
Even doctors find this one tricky, which is why RA can sometimes take a very long time to diagnose. Another problem is that RA seems to crop up with infinite variety; just about every patient ‘presents’ differently when they go to see their doctor. Some things to look out for though are:
RA will almost always occur in more than one joint at the same time
- RA will often involve obvious swelling around the joints
- RA will often involve obvious redness around the joints
- People with RA will often find joints extremely stiff first thing in the morning, with this stiffness wearing away gradually over a period of an hour or more
- People with RA will often feel unwell, with a kind of general ‘don’t feel good’ feeling including tiredness, headaches, lethargy and fatigue
- RA apparently often occurs ‘symmetrically’ – i.e. if you have it one hand, it will also occur in the other. If you have it one knee, it will crop up in the other one too.
- RA frequently affects the small joints – those in the hands and feet, whereas osteoarthritis often affects the larger joints.
But see all those ‘often’s and ‘almost’s? That’s why it’s so hard to diagnose! The worst of my RA, for instance, has been in my knees and shoulders, so I don’t fit the ‘small joints’ pattern, although it does all affect hands and feet.
The good news as told by Pollyanna Penguin
If you have osteoarthritis, short of joint replacement and painkillers there’s probably not a lot you can do about it (although maybe glucosamine helps in some way – the jury is out!) If you have rheumatoid arthritis there are treatments available. They are many and varied, and some work for some people and others work for others and you’re really incredibly unlucky they won’t work for you ; if you’re new to this whole RA thing, don’t panic when you read the blogs all around the RA community. There are hundreds of people out there whose RA is under really good control through drugs and/or other treatments, and as a consequence they consider they have better things to do than blog about arthritis! So those of us who blog tend to be the unlucky ones – although of course there are exceptions. I’m on the fence here – I’m a lucky one – things are pretty much under control, and I only blog once in a while when I have something to say or those nice folks over at IAAM ask me to!
There are many medical treatments out there, and there are new ones coming out quite often too. The new ones, largely ‘biologics’ tend to be very expensive at the moment so your doctor will probably start you off on some of the older ones, which are ‘cheap as chips’ as one of the rheumatology nurses at my hospital put it. I’m on that old stalwart methotrexate. It’s the most commonly used drug I think, it’s certainly ‘cheap as chips’ these days, and for me it really works. Some people have nasty side-effects from it though, and for others it just doesn’t do the job. If that’s the case then it can be tried in combination with other things, or you might be moved on to one of the spangly new biologics.
You might, of course, opt to go for a non-medical treatment. My personal belief is that it’s a good idea to get things under control with medicine and then use other things such as physiotherapy (physical therapy is the US translation!), occupational therapy, acupuncture if you think it helps, dietary things etc. added on top, because I believe that this is a progressive disease and that these various medications, although they won’t flat out cure you, can and often will stop the progression, which is hugely important. Other people disagree and use complementary therapies, which seem to help them. It’s your choice – but please, just do your research before you decide!
So, it’s not all doom and gloom – anyone with RA (or osteo for that matter) would rather not have it, but there are things that can be done, and there is also support out there, from NRAS and Arthritis Care in the UK, the Arthritis Foundation (and others I’m sure) in the US and UK, and now from IAAM, the International Autoimmune Arthritis Movement. IAAM are doing a lot to increase people’s awareness and understanding of what autoimmune arthritis (RA being one kind of that) is, and I’m proud to be a member and a ‘blog leader’ for them. They have established World Autoimmune Arthritis Day (WAAD), to be held annually on May 20th, online and during all time zones, making it a 47-hour online event! This Virtual Convention will unite patients, supporters and nonprofits from around the globe, inviting them to participate in both live and on-demand presentations, scheduled live chat sessions, surveys, live Call to Action posts and access to an online library of downloadable resources that can help people with autoimmune arthritis and their supporters in managing their diseases. WAAD is registered on 16 health calendars internationally and has already received nonprofit support from over a dozen organizations, including the American College of Rheumatology, the Spondylitis Association of America, Arthritis New Zealand, the International Still’s Disease Foundation and Lupus UK. As the official Host of this historic event, IAAM invites YOU to be a part of it too. Best of all? It’s FREE to register!
World Autoimmune Arthritis Day (WAAD) website link- www.worldautoimmunearthritisday.org
WAAD registration link- http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=0&oeidk=a07e5n7i1aq5f98d0e9
And what’s more, it’s IAAM’s first birthday on May 7th. Slightly in advance Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear IA(AAAA)AM*, happy birthday to you.
* Can’t sing it properly without some extra As!
Tags: aches, arthritis, beans, diagnosis, doctor, exercise, fibromyalgia, joint pain, physical therapy, physio, physiotherapy, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, shoulder pain
If I had to come up with a list of the top ten things I never thought I’d be saying, that’s got to be up there among them!
I had a physio appointment yesterday for my dodgy shoulder – the one the doctor said was RA and would probably need a joint injection. Well … according to the physio it isn’t and it won’t … and I think she’s right. She thinks it’s likely to be inflammation relating to a previous episode of joint inflammation which caused the joint capsule to swell, so that the muscles around the glenohumeral joint, the ‘rotator cuff’, were pushed about a bit and got inflamed as well. The joint problem seems to have died down, leaving the rotator cuff problem zinging away like a good’n, unfortunately.
Apparently one in three people over the age of forty have a rotator cuff problem anyway, nothing to do with RA, so it might not even be linked, but since I’ve had no injury etc. to exacerbate it, it probably is.
Anyhow, this physio seems to have had prior training as a torturer, although she assured me that she started as a physio straight out of uni last year, but I’ve got to admit that with her heavy and darned painful massage, ultrasound and various exercises, the shoulder is a whole lot better already today, although she says it will probably take three months to heal completely … and that’s if I’m a good penguin and keep remembering to put my nose on my elbow!
Yes, that’s one of the bizarre exercises I have to do to stretch the muscles. Stand feet about a foot from a wall, rest my forearm on the wall in front of me with my upper arm at right-angles to the shoulder joint and then … rest my nose on my elbow, for about three minutes a day, but not necessarily all at the same time. It really does stretch those muscles! Looks extremely odd though. I can hardly wait to do it in the office and entertain the junior penguins! (Or perhaps I’ll just slink off to the loo and do it there!)
The other main exercise involves lying on the bed with a can of beans and doing a kind of weight-lifting thing. At least having a can of beans by the bed makes it easy it to remember to do the exercise!
Tags: aches, arthritis, doctor, fatigue, flare, flare-up, GP, joint pain, NHS, RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatology, sleep, stress, tiredness, work
No … probably not!
It’s just possible, maybe, perhaps, that I’ve sliiiiiiiightly overdone it this week! The plan for this week was that on top of work (quite busy) I would also have: the dreaded surgery Patient Panel on Monday – bound to be acrimonious as they’re introducing a telephone triaging system which has gone done like a lead balloon with most patients; my second Spanish lesson on Wednesday (a drive all the way in tew the ci’ee (aka Norwich); on Thursday morning a reunion meeting for a course I attended last year (again in the ci’ee); an Embroiderers Guild talk to attend on Friday night (in the ci’ee); a botanical drawing course all day Saturday (an hour’s drive away); and finally taking mum out for a mother’s day meal (in the ci’ee again) today.
I had also committed to growing a sour-dough started for ‘Herman the German Friendship Cake’, with the extra starter to be passed on to three friends on Thursday and the cake baked on Friday.
What I hadn’t considered when taking all this on was the possibility that BOTH the ‘junior penguins’ might be off sick (there’s a dreadful sinusitis bug raging around our wee town at the moment!) and that I’d therefore be incredibly stressed at work, trying to meet deadlines and earn money for three! Hubby suggested I needed a notice above my desk: ‘Penguin: Working to earn your sick-pay.’
Something had to give – and unfortunately it was the reunion, which I was really looking forward to. I obviously couldn’t have the time off work with the other two both sick! I went to the patient panel – and walked out after 1.5 hours, having spent the first 45 minutes wasting time discussing stuff we’ve been discussing since it started in 2008. It was just starting to get acrimonious when I said sorry, I had to go, but I’d made my points by then.
I was already tired by Wednesday but determined not to miss the Spanish lesson, as it was only the second one, even though my brain was pretty fogged by the end of the hour and I’m not sure much went in! I must remember to say no to the generous offer of Spanish-strength coffee when I arrive; I didn’t get much sleep that night due to caffeine buzz!
Nevertheless, the work got done, the cake got baked (and delicious), the talk got went to (see – told you by brain’s fugged – can’t do grammar proper at the moment) and the plants got drawn, but I have a nasty feeling I’m heading for a flare – or at least a fizzle! Well no, let’s be honest, I’m HAVING the fizzle and hoping it’s going to be a damp squib and not a flare!
At least mum’s driving us into the ci’ee today for our Mother’s Day meal so all I have to do is eat and pay. Think I can manage that!
Tags: aches, filing, RA, Rheumatoid arthritis, transportation, Wales
I have just got back from a short trip to Wales – or a long trip, depending on how you look at it. I was there for about 2.5 days – but I also spent 16 hours travelling! I don’t know why sitting on your butt on a train is tiring, but it is! Fortunately I was fine RA-wise while I was there, even though I was visiting a friend with a dog and a bunch of mad cats that periodically had to be chucked off me, the bed or sundry bits of furniture, and even though we spent most of the 2.5 days filing.
I am NOT good at filing. First we cleared out a load of old papers from a filing cabinet, and then we cleared out a load of papers from boxes and put the ones she needed to keep IN the filing cabinet. The trouble is that neither of us are any good at filing – firstly thinking of suitable headings for things – like car insurance: do you file it under insurance, car insurance, motor insurance, auto insurance? ‘Well, where would you look for it when you went to find it?’ says I. ‘Dunno,’ says she … ‘I’m putting under car insurance,’ says I with a sinking feeling that EVERY time she’s looking for something in future I’m going to get a phone-call asking what we filed it under.
Secondly the actual physical act of filing. It’s a lot of hand movement for one thing, and my hands are rather sore this morning. Also, you know those cabinets with hanging files that you put papers in? Well I KEPT putting the darned papers in BETWEEN the hanging files so they ended up on the bottom of the drawer instead of filed. I’d only realise hours later when I went to file another car insurance document only to find that the car insurance file was empty. ‘I know I filed some of these earlier … ah … there they are, on the bottom of the drawer …’ It was biiiiig, deep drawer in quite a tall cabinet. I think this may be why my shoulders are also aching this morning.
Still, even with all that going on I was fine … until I got home. I think it’s a question of when you stop you realise how tired you are. While I was there I did not stop! I have now ground to a rather achy halt!
Tags: aches, arthritis, cold, flare, flare-up, joint pain, knee, knee cosy, pain, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness, stress, warm, weather
Oh crumbs – it’s snowing! You may remember that in my previous post I was winging about the cold the other day; well, it’s colder.
Yesterday the journey home was worse than I ever. I had a hectic day at work but I felt fine (if a little stressed) … and then I left the office to go home.
The moment my left knee found itself outside it started to complain, and the complaints got louder as I drove, to the point where I knew I wasn’t able to concentrate a hundred percent on my driving. Not good!
Although I get the ‘traditional’ sore and achy hands and feet of RA, the worst affected thing has always been my left knee, and if I have a flare that’s usually where it starts. This is the first year I’ve really noticed the cold affecting it though.
I’ve been trying to think of a way to keep that knee warm, specifically while driving. A lap blanket (Afghan in the US I believe) wouldn’t be safe, as it might slip into the foot-well and get tangled with my driving foot. (Fortunately, considering the sate of the left knee, I drive an automatic!)
I’ve decided the solution might be a ‘knee cosy’! I’m not quite sure yet how it would work. Perhaps a combination of a sports-style knee protector and a pouch that could incorporate one of those gel reusable hand-warmer type things?
I’m disappointed, but not surprised, to discover I’m not the first person (by a long, long way) to think up the neat ‘knee cosy’ moniker, but people are using it as a name for lap blankets, not for my cunning plan. I may have to make this my Christmas craft project!
Tags: aches, arthritis, exercise, fatigue, fibromyalgia, joint pain, knee, neck pain, pain, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), sleep, stiffness, stress, tiredness, weather, work
Well more split Penguin really – my right side is ready to take on the world this morning, but my left side just wants to go back to bed with a hot-water-bottle (or perhaps Enormous Cat on hot-water-bottle duty). This is not my usual pattern – usually I have, for instance, a bad knee and a worse knee, or a pair of bad shoulders, but this morning everything on the right is fine but my left hand, elbow, shoulder and knee are all stiff and painful!
I rather suspect that this has as much to do with fibromyalgia than it does with RA, because although the knee and elbow feel joint-related the shoulder is definitely muscular … well, when I say definitely it’s actually hard to be sure I find, but it doesn’t feel like the usual rheumatoid arthritis pain. I’ve had a few problems in the last few days with it, having foolishly swung round to grab something behind me on Saturday and then found myself curled up in a ball on my chair going, ‘Ow, ooops, I really shouldn’t have done that’.* Unbelievably I then did exactly the same thing twice on Sunday! It’s such a dumb thing to do for someone who knows damn well they get problems in neck and shoulders! I blame the fact that they’d felt so good lately that I’ve been less aware of having to be careful … which I suppose is something I really can’t complain about.
Oh well, I have a mountain of work to get through today thanks to the over-enthusiasm of a colleague on Thursday who, forgetting I was on my own for the first half of the week, may have bitten off more work than we can chew, so I’m going to have to let the right side rule!
*This is the expurgated version
Tags: aches, arthritis, diagnosis, doctor, GP, joint pain, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness, work
I met up with a friend yesterday who I haven’t seen for ages, in spite of the fact that we work in the same tiny town. It was great to see her but I was somewhat dismayed when she asked me about my arthritis and then told me that her husband seemed to be suffering from what appear to be RA symptoms too.
‘One of his fingers is permanently hooked now,’ she said, ‘and sometimes when he goes to open a jar or something he hand locks around it and I have to force the fingers open one by one. I hate doing that, it’s gross.’
My immediate reaction was something like ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrggghghhhggh!’ This was partly for the grossness and partly because you MUSTN’T do that. ‘Every time you force his hand open you’re damaging the joints more!’ I nearly screamed.
‘Well,’ says she with a shrug, ‘what else can we do?’
‘What treatment is he on for it?’
‘Oh he isn’t on any treatment. He’s not been to the doctor about it.’
Did I mention Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrggghghhhggh?
Well … erm … that might be your answer about what else you can do about it then! Now I know some people don’t want to go on treatment and have some success with alternative therapy or diet, and the very best of luck to them, but he’s not doing that either. He’s just ignoring it and waiting for it to go away. What makes it worse is he has a very active, physical job and he really NEEDS to be able to do this stuff.
On reflection, perhaps that’s why he’s not going to the doctor – he’s terrified of being told that he shouldn’t/can’t carry on working, so he’s just trying to ignore it. I can kind of sympathise with that … but he’s still crazy if you ask me!
Tags: aches, flu, flu jab, GP, medicine, neck pain, NHS, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), sniffles, sore throat
I have the post flu-jab sniffles, so presumably that means my immune system is going to respond and do its job in creating anti flu antibodies, which will be very handy if we have a flu epidemic this year … provided of course that it’s the ‘right’ flu. I had a slightly sore throat yesterday afternoon, post flu jab, and distinct sniffles this morning, but at least the big red lump on my arm is now a big red pinprick with a small red rash around it, and much less painful.
All more than worth it though if it keeps flu at bay! If the Flu Jab had a Facebook page I’d sign up to be its fan. (Oh lordy, perhaps it does … )
Tags: acceptance, aches, arthritis, flare, flare-up, joint pain, knee, neck pain, normality, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness, tiredness
I’ve been thinking a lot lately (although writing very little!) about what ‘acceptance’ of RA means, and also about redefining my idea of ‘normal’. I hadn’t managed, and still haven’t managed in fact, to get my thoughts into words, but I think this afternoon I came as close to ‘acceptance’ as perhaps I ever will.
As I was relaxing in the bath (sorry, probably ‘too much information, especially for those that know me!) and letting my thoughts drift along pretty randomly, I started to think about some of my friends and colleagues: one’s still coping with the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake; one’s recently widowed; one’s, to put it bluntly, losing her marbles; one’s spending this weekend picking up the pieces in her house, since large swathes of the downstairs flooring were dug up on Friday to find a leak.
Good grief, I thought – I’m bloody lucky! I have a loving (and all-round fab) husband, a terrific family (especially the nearest and dearest, including the recent addition of Mrs Mooseface), I have great friends, I enjoy my job, I have time (never enough time of course, but some time) to indulge my passions of messing around with textiles, drawing and pottering about in bits of nature, and although one could always be better off financially, the finances aren’t a complete disaster! The interesting point is that at no point during these thoughts floating over the bubbles did I consider, ‘Yes, but I do have this bloody disease to deal with, so perhaps not so lucky after all.’
It’s not as though things are going great with the RA at the moment either. I wake up every morning in pain, although it often clears for the most part within the hour. I go to sleep most nights in pain. I have pain and stiffness during every day. This is perhaps extra frustrating because for around four months between a flare in March and sometime around August, I felt as though I was pretty much fine, almost symptom free, nearly in remission. And yet, in a way, this on-and-off low-grade (for the most part) pain has just become the norm for me. It’s just another thing to put on one side and live with – and yes, I do appreciate I’m lucky that I can put it on one side at the moment, it’s not so bad that it stops me doing all those things I consider myself lucky for, but what interested me was the fact that it was so far into the normal, everyday that I didn’t even give it a thought when considering other people’s problems and drifting into comparing my life to theirs.
I think I might have once ranted that I will never ‘accept’ this disease, and don’t even mention the word ‘embrace’ in the same breath as rheumatoid arthritis, but perhaps this is acceptance, Penguin-style.