Tags: aches, arthritis, canadian smocking, cats, cholesterol, coffee, crochet, decafinated, doctor, embroidery, GP, methotrexate, pains, Rheumatoid arthritis, Spanish
Well, I’ve been very remiss posting lately, I must say … so prepare for a very long and rambling post – perhaps I’ll put headings on so you can skip to the bits that you might find interesting! A combination of being very busy and yo-yo health – but fortunately, mostly busyness.
Anyone remember the game ‘fortunately, unfortunately’ where you’d take it turns to make sentences beginning with either fortunately or unfortunately, to make up a story? Well I was wondering whether to write an entire blog post like that, as my life seems to fit that pattern quite well right now – but thought it might get tedious, for you and me! Here’s an example though in case you have no idea what I mean:
Fortunately I have been doing a lot of fun things lately.
Unfortunately doing a lot of fun things is rather exhausting.
Fortunately I am, on the whole, sleeping quite well.
Unfortunately my Spanish teacher forgot I only drink decaf coffee and made me two fully ‘cafinated’ coffees last week, and I had a terrible night’s sleep (or lack of it) trying to climb down off the ceiling.
So – here we go with the update on the health front: About three weeks after my methotrexate increase in May I started to feel much better – go methotrexate! All those ‘regular’ niggly aches in my hands and feet were spirited away – I was still getting twinges and some knee pain (my knees probably being the worst affected bits of me) but no stiffness and none of that constant, nagging, draining pain. Hurrah! Unfortunately … sorry, just slipped into it there … it’s now about twelve weeks later and I’m feeling really pretty rotten. If you’re reading this then the chances are that I don’t need to describe that rotten feeling – you either know it only too well or you probably know me and I’ve moaned at you enough already – so suffice it to say I’m just not feeling good!
I’m hoping, and thinking it most likely, that it’s a temporary blip rather than that the methotrexate is ALREADY not doing the job.
On top of that I had my annual cholesterol test recently … hmm … suffice it to say I am now SERIOUSLY on a diet! :-( It’s very boring – actually that’s not really true – there’s a lot of GREAT and tasty food out there that’s fine for dieting, including much delicious fruit – but remember being a kid and having plenty of toys and games and friends, but you’re BORED and you DON’T WANT ANY OF THOSE? Well that’s how I feel right now about peipono melon and strawberries and lovely home-grown courgettes (zucchini) and all the other apparently delicious things in the fridge! I want caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake! But fortunately (sorry!) the weight is coming off so that’s encouraging me to avoid the cake and stick to the melon! Also I do NOT want to be on Statins at 46!!
And so to cats – it’s been absolutely ages since I mentioned my cats (or indeed my poor hubby, but he might have to wait for another post!) They are still, of course, a central part of my life (as are you hubby-dear, before you read this and complain) and in fact we may have to rename Enormous Cat as Mr. Handsome, as he has dieted (or perhaps I should say we have dieted him?) way more successfully than his penguin, so far. I should get encouragement from him – he’s ten years younger in sprightliness and joi de vivre, although (like me) he does complain loudly that he’s hungry sometimes! And Tiny Cat 2 has really come on – she’s gone from being a practically feral scardeycat to a real member of the family – she’s even been known to sit on my lap for twenty minute at a time and stay quite happily curled up next to hubby when he’s sat down beside her. (Not often – but increasingly.)
Having fun (and occasionally working)
So … the rest of life: I had a lovely visit a few weeks ago to Bro and SIL’s new(ish) house in the Midlands – and we’ve visited some other friends and had some friends visit us; Hubby and I have been doing quite a bit of wildlife surveying which is fun; I’ve been doing a lot of crochet, trying to get something ready for a competition but I fear it’s NOT going to be close to ready – but on the bright side I did get third prize in our local show for my crocheted St. Edwards Crown last month, so that was nice. I have also been trying out ‘Canadian smocking’ which is fun. Just small samples so far, practising on an old gingham curtain, because that way I don’t have to mark out squares on the fabric! I have a cunning plan for a clutch bag based on this technique – but no hurry … and the Spanish is coming on nicely – although to be honest I can understand my Spanish teacher fairly well but plonk me down in Barcelona and ask me to translate and I’m sure I still couldn’t understand a word! Still – getting better! And in amongst all this fun, fun, fun – work has, thank goodness, picked up lately, so we’re busy there too. No wonder I’m tired!
Phew – sorry that was so rambly – I’m off for a lie down now … although Mr Handsome is trying to persuade me to feed him instead.
Tags: blood test, doctor, GP, receptionist
I went into the surgery for my blood test yesterday. I got there in good time and signed in, waited until ten minutes after the appointment was due and went up to the desk to make sure the auto sign-in had worked properly. The receptionist asked who the appointment was with and I didn’t know as it wasn’t my usual nurse, so she found me by my name and assured me I was signed in. I then asked her whether I was the next patient and she said there was one person in front of me.
While not delighted, at least I knew there was a delay so I went and sat down again. Ten minutes later another receptionist called out ‘Is Pollyanna Penguin here?’ and I went up to the desk. It was now 20 minutes past my appointment time. She explained that the nurse I should have been seeing wasn’t in and that another nurse had hoped she could see both sets of patients but was (understandably) running late. She assured me I would be seen if I wanted to wait, but said that otherwise they could re-book for a week’s time, if that was OK.
This is a vast improvement on the way things ran a year or so ago, when the receptionists would just let you sit there all day, and if you went up to ask what was going on they didn’t know! I’ve had a couple of bad experiences like that in the past, so I thought this was a pretty good way of handling it.
The only thing is … when I went up to ask after ten minutes they knew the situation, so I wish someone had thought to tell me then. I know, I know – it’s only another ten minutes, right? But still, I had a busy day yesterday and I could have spent those ten minutes more productively at work than sitting in the doctor’s waiting room playing Angry Birds and feeling like one too!
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: aches, arthritis, consultant, doctor, fibromyalgia, flare, flare-up, hands and feet, hospital, joint pain, knee, nurse practitioner, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, work
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.
Tags: aches, arthritis, cold, diagnosis, doctor, R.A., rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), shoulder, stiffness, tendonopathy
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!
Tags: arthritis, doctor, hormones, hospital, hot flushes, NHS, night sweats, RA, red cheeks, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, rosacea, urine sample
Well, I went for my x-rays – appointment booked half an hour before the dermatology appointment, and it all fitted in fine – I had about fifteen minutes to find the dermatology department once the x-rays were over, and I found it without any problem. All going rather well so far.
Then I waited … and waited … and waited … and waited – but that’s just the way it is. Fortunately I’d remembered to take a good book!
Dermatology lady said she’s fairly sure I haven’t got lupus (hurrah) but I have got rosacea (boo). Unfortunately I’ve been applying gunk to my face for nearly five months now and it’s not going away at all, so the obvious solution seems to be ‘try it a bit longer, and in the meantime we’ll discharge you’. Hmm … thanks a bunch!
Having said that, she was very pleasant, really took her time, asked sensible questions and listened to the answers. For that, I don’t mind waiting a bit!
One of the things she asked was, ‘Do you get night sweats?’ to which the only possible response was, ‘Do I get night sweats! You bet!’ So we talked about the whole ‘early menopause’ thing and the fact that although it started 5 years ago I didn’t seem to actually have gone through menopause and the hormones had never actually been fully investigated.
And that led to the delights involved in the title to this post. ‘I think we should test your hormone levels,’ she said, ‘ but I’m afraid the test is a bit long-winded. It involves a 24-hour urine sample.’ I couldn’t resist the obvious response. ‘I can’t pee for that long!’ Poor lady must have heard that one a few times before but she was very patient with me!
I have to keep all urine I produce over a 24-hour period and put it in a LARGE sample bottle, which I had to collect from the labs in a beautiful LARGE bag with things like, ‘Biohazard’ and ‘warning – dangerous substance’ stamped all over it, as it contains hydrochloric acid to preserve the sample, once the sample is in there. Luckily I had brought a bag for my book and other bits so I just put it inside that – otherwise slightly embarrassing to walk around with.
I haven’t done this test yet as she wisely suggested waiting for a day where I could stay in the house for 24 hours, and there aren’t many of those, but I’m planning to do it soon. Once done, and I’ll finish my 24 hours at 8 0’clock one morning, I have to jump in the car, dash over to the hospital, deliver the sample ‘for immediate testing’ and then dash up to the top of the hospital for a blood test – which should take place straight after the sample is finished – a bit tricky since I live 30 mins or so from the hospital! Never mind – hopefully it’s not THAT critical.
If anything comes out positive/negative/worrying about this test, that’ll mean further referrals etc. as it’s hardly a dermatology issue. It’ll be interesting to find out either way though, as the hot flushes and night sweats are horrendous at the moment and if there is something hormonal going on as shouldn’t be, it would be nice to know!
In the meantime I shall continue to be a ‘ruddy cheeked penguin’ – a rare breed indeed.
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!