Tags: aches, anti-inflammatories, arcoxia, arthritis, doctor, flare, medicine, methotrexate, MTX, R.A., RA, reducing tablets, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness, tablets, weather
You may have noticed I haven’t actually said anything much about my RA for a while … well that’s because it’s not really affecting me in a big way, and hasn’t been for a while. And yes – I do appreciate how bloomin’ lucky I am!
I saw my consultant the other day and for once we were in agreement – things are going well both from his point of view (bloods and 2-second examination) and mine (how I actually feel). These two things rarely combine but this time they did, and what’s more, six months ago when I saw the nurse things were going well too, so we’ve made the decision to cut back on the tablets.
I must say I felt awfully brave doing that … still do actually, it’s scary how dependent one gets on the comfort of knowing that if you keep taking the tablets things are mostly OK. It’s only the anti-inflammatories that I’m cutting back on at the moment, and the idea is that if that goes OK I’ll step down my methotrexate next time I see him. In fact, I’ve cut out the anti-inflammatories altogether for five days so far and things are going well. Apart from the odd twinges in my bad knee and occasional mild stiffness and achiness if I wake up after a cold night, I’ve had very little indication that they were making any difference. Unlike the methotraxate, there was no build-up with the anti-inflams I was taking, so the good news is that I can cut them out for the moment but if I have a flare, or just a bad, achy day, I can take one whenever I need to.
Of course we’ve had five days of glorious sunshine and DRYNESS – which I’m convinced makes a difference, so we’ll have to wait and see how things go when that stops – and given it’s the weekend that will probably stop tomorrow! Watch this space! I’m really hopeful though that things will carry on going well and I can reduce the methotrexate in six months’ time!
Tags: arthritis, diagnosis, doctor, fatigue, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, sleep, stiffness, tiredness
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.” My previous post on this is here.
As I said in my previous post, these days RA doesn’t have such a huge impact on my life. In fact I almost feel a fraud posting about it, but there are some little things, and some equally small hints and tips on coping with them, that I can post about.
Other than making sure I take my medication really regularly, I don’t have to do an awful lot to manage my RA but one of the most important things I do is wear orthotic insoles in my shoes. It certainly helps being married to a chiropodist! These insoles have made a massive difference to me over the years. They’re now just a part of life, but if I do have occasion to wear ‘fancy’ shoes or, as I did yesterday, wander downstairs with bare feet without thinking, I soon know about it – and not in a good way! I had painful feet for years before diagnosis whenever I spent a bit of time walking about, and I just assumed it was the pain everyone had when they said ‘Ooh, it’s good to take the weight off your feet!’ It didn’t dawn on me for ages that when I took the weight off my feet they still hurt, and other people’s didn’t!
Another little tip is warm water – warm water is a wonderful thing if your hands are stiff first thing in the morning! I rarely get significant morning stiffness but if I do, plunging my hands into a sink full of lovely warm water really does help. (Hubby will read this and suggest I should do more washing up, I dare say!)
The other major effect RA has on me, and the most difficult one of all to get through to people who don’t understand the disease (including family, doctors, family who are doctors …) is the fatigue! This really is a big problem and the only way I can deal with it is to pace myself and try to keep to a boring routine of early nights and early mornings. (Obviously if late mornings are an option for you, that’s fine – they aren’t for me as I work full time.) People always pull faces and think I’m making excuses when I’m being a party pooper at 9 pm … and maybe they’re right as I’ve never been a fan of parties … but really, an early night and a good sleep makes all the difference to me.
The final thing is flares – even though my arthritis is mild and controlled I still get flares. They’re a fact of life. The hardest thing is to remind myself during a flare that it may seem like a dark tunnel but there IS light at the end of it. It’s ridiculous – every time I have a flare I feel as though THIS IS IT and things will never be right again. After seven years since diagnosis and quite a few flares you’d think I’d be over this but I’ve spoken to other RA sufferers and people who have other diseases that also flare and die down, and many seem to go through the same thing. It’s not sensible but I haven’t yet found a way to avoid it! So if anyone would like to offer me a hint or tip on this, it would be appreciated! 🙂
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: 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, 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: 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