Tags: accident, arthritis, being a burden, burden, crutches, flare, gratitude, horse, joint pain, R.A., rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology
I was chatting in the kitchen at work today with a lass who works in the same building. She had an accident at the weekend and is hobbling around on crutches. As an active, sporty person she’s feeling very frustrated – who wouldn’t be – but I was slightly amused (in a sympathetic way of course) at her frustration with losing her independence. I offered to carry her coffee down the corridor for her and she said no, she’d manage. ‘I hate being a burden’ she said, ‘I’m normally such an independent person and everyone’s being so kind and helpful and I’m having to rely on lifts and things for everything, and of course I’m grateful but I HATE IT!’ I do so know the feeling – although I’m incredibly lucky with my RA that it comes and goes so must of the time I can remain independent, but when I can’t that continuous feeling of pressure (entirely internal, not from the people around me) to show gratitude, and that feeling of being a burden is just horrible! I don’t think I can explain that feeling to anyone who hasn’t experienced it – but I know many of you reading this will have experienced it too!
Then she said, ‘And everyone’s got an opinion! “Oh, you’ll have to stop doing that now this has happened” and “If you’d been wearing stronger body protection …” and “You shouldn’t have gone out on a day like that” and “If only you’d thought to do this first …”‘ In fact it was one of those unavoidable things – an ‘act of god’ if you like – something spooked her horse and she came off it. It happens. She wears body protection, she was in a lesson and it wasn’t that bad a day or the teacher (and she herself) would have cancelled. But yes, everybody has an opinion!
‘Oh, eat a spoonful of honey a day and your arthritis will disappear’ – ‘Oh, if you lost weight you’d have no arthritis problems’ – ‘Oh, my mother took a whisky every night and lived till she was 122 without any arthritis symptoms, maybe you should try that’ … Doesn’t that sound familiar? The being a burden thing and the everyone has an opinion thing are two things that I think bloggers on RA and chronic disease blog out rather frequently, but it turns out it’s not just ‘us’.
But at least horse lady will get a full recovery (or I certainly hope so) and no doubt ‘look back on this and laugh’ whereas we folk with chronic disease are a bit more stuck with it! Nevertheless, in true Pollyanna fashion, I’m still grateful (and without that burdensome feeling!) for the fact that my disease is mild and for all the things I can still do … and now I can add to that the fact that I’m very unlikely to be thrown off a spooked horse anytime soon, since I’m very unlikely to be on one!
Tags: aches, arthritis, doctor, exercise, flare, flare-up, joint pain, methotrexate, MTX, NHS, pain, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, work
I woke up yesterday morning with really bad pain in my hip/lower back, but by lunchtime it had passed off, so I had a lunchtime walk yesterday as usual, and very pleasant it was too, until about half-way round, when I got a very sharp pain in the side of my foot, just behind the little toe. (Same leg as the hip pain.) By the time I got back to work the pain was coming in short, sharp bursts lasting up to about 10 seconds and then was fine in between … but in between wasn’t very long! It was happening at least twice a minute. I took paracetamol and, three hours later, ibuprofen, but to no avail. We had to go shopping that night and I limped around the supermarket and then asked hubby to drive home as I was in too much pain. It wasn’t the worst pain I’d ever experienced but it was BAD. My foot just in that area was bright red and swollen, so that sounds like RA, but the odd coming and going of it doesn’t seem quite right. I THINK it was RA and I’m just a weird patient!
Anyway, of course being Monday last night was m-m-m-methotrexate night. I went to bed still in a LOT of pain, and woke up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘OOOH, my foot hurts’ and then again, some time later in the middle of the night, I think around 3:30, thinking ‘OOOH, my foot DOESN’T HURT!’ And it hasn’t hurt since. I have no idea what’s going on or why, but MAYBE it was lucky that that happened on a Monday and the methotrexate kicked in. I don’t think it’s supposed to work like that though, is it? It’s supposed to be a slow build-up, not a week by week thing. Perhaps it was just a short, sharp flare-ette and just finished then. Perhaps it wasn’t RA at all. They mystery of what is and isn’t RA is certainly … mysterious …
That reminds me of the time a few weeks ago when I was getting sharp pains and bad headaches that felt like they were on the outside of my skull. Not the first time this has happened, you may recall. Oh dear, I thought, I hope this isn’t giant cell arteritis – I think it’s that sort of symptom … and then I realised I was wearing a hair-slide that was being pushed into my head by my transcription headphones! Much relieved that I worked this out by myself and didn’t bother the poor, overworked GP with it!
Anyway, the good news is that the answer seems to be ‘not to flare’ at the moment, but I’m having a day off walks this lunchtime just in case it happens again!
Tags: aches, arthritis, GP, hospital, joint pain, knee, NHS, nurse, nurse practitioner, physical therapy, physio, R.A., rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness
I can’t believe I haven’t posted since June. I wish I could say that that’s because I had nothing, RA-wise, to post about, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. In fact throughout June, July and August I probably did have ALMOST nothing to post about, but, although I’ve kept off those dratted antiinflmmatatories, things aren’t quite so hot now.
It’s just little niggly things at the moment – niggly knees mostly, as it always is with me, plus waking up in the night and finding my right-hand index finger is very stiff and very painful. I have a horrible feeling this relates to my increase in crocheting lately, and I’m wondering if I’ll be able to complete my Diploma in Crochet … although thankfully there’s no time limit so if it takes me a week to crochet a 4″ square, so be it!
And talking of crafts, I’ve just been to the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexander Palace – a 3.5 hour journey there, mostly by coach, a 4 hour journey back (due to the coach almost breaking down but managing to limp to our drop-off point in the end!) and a loooong day browsing the exhibitions (so-so), trade stands (fabulous yearly treat for a rural type with few local craft shops!) and enjoying a workshop too (Dorset button making). We went on the Friday and it knocked me FLAT for the rest of the weekend but it was worth it!
I also had my hospital appointment not long ago. To my astonishment it went very well – they called us in individually, so again we didn’t have to line up like ducklings behind the mother-duck nurse, and there was a new rheumy nurse there (well, new to me, and young) who was absolutely delightful – she hasn’t had the soft, caring side knocked out of her by working too long for too little and too many hours at a time … yet. She was very sympathetic and very helpful about the knees, which were playing up at the time, although more from the medical (go on, have them drained, it’s not that bad – hah, like she’d know!) side than the practical ‘help yourself’ side of exercises, cold compresses etc. And thereby lies, in my non-expert opinion, one of the biggest problems with any giant organisation such as the NHS. It’s inevitable that everyone has their own specialties, but they do tend to get siloed. She didn’t offer me physio – but then again … I didn’t ask. In all honesty I didn’t feel I needed it, and perhaps neither did she! I know how to manage the low-level pain now – sometimes I may need reminding, being a dopey penguin, but I do know!
And that lack of ‘joined up thinking’ leads to the next thing – I got a letter recently asking me to ring the surgery to discuss ‘some blood results from the hospital’. Slightly worrying that – especially as it arrived on a Thursday, I didn’t get it until Thursday night and I was off to London on Friday, so couldn’t ring until Monday. Anyway, I rang on Monday. ‘Oh’ says the doc. ‘They want us to check your cholesterol risk.’ And ‘quite right too’ I hear you say. ‘You’re overweight and you should do something about it and they’re right to be vigilant.’ Well, yes, but here’s the thing … the surgery themselves had just checked my cholesterol about three weeks before and established that I was low risk.
If the nurse at the hospital had asked me about it, instead of sending me off for bloods and not even telling me she was checking that, I could have said, ‘They’ve just done that at the surgery. This is my level, I’m apparently low risk.’ Instead, lovely as she was, she wasted the following resources:
- A blood sucker (aka phlebotomist)
- The lab doing the work on the cholesterol
- The hospital secretary
- The surgery secretary who sent out the letter
- The GP who had to call me back and discuss what we’d discussed three weeks before
‘Joined up thinking’ is no longer the buzz phrase of the day, and it sadly didn’t work when it was, but a little bit more of it would be a wonderful thing.
Tags: aches, Eye, joint pain, knee, R.A., rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Thanks for all the comments. Well, we made it back today, and successfully collected the fabric. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about then you’ll need to read the previous post!) Run4Joy – not sure about ‘spry’, the knee isn’t perfect … in fact neither knee is as good as it was a couple of days ago, but both are much, much better than yesterday!
Maggie, good point! We made it back and this time we got to the nature reserve – and very lovely (and flat) it was too. You can’t see in the picture above but between us and the church there’s a lovely river (the River Dove), teaming with damselflies and dragonflies. Most of the (very small) reserve is a wild flower meadow, so a jolly nice place to visit in the summer!
Carla, I’m sure you’re right – I had been overdoing it, so we had a very short and leisurely walk around the reserve and then headed back home and put our feet up. Poor Hubby, having done all the driving two days running … not to mention the drive up to the coast on Friday night for a walk around Cromer, Blakeney and Wells (did I mention I might have overdone it lately?), was more in need of a feet up afternoon than I was!
Tags: aches, autoimmune arthritis, blog carnival, joint pain, knee, NHS, pain, physical therapy, physio, physiotherapy, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, sleep, stiffness, stress, tiredness, WAAD, WAAD blog carnival, work, World Autoimmune Arthritis Day
This post will be part of the Word Autoimmune Arthritis Day Blog Carnival. WAAD is May 19th 2014 but you can sign up for it now over at the site. This year’s theme is “A Day in the Life of an Autoimmune Arthritis Patient.” I hope I’m not cheating, but I’m going to describe two days – one just post diagnosis and one post-“control” where I am now!
4:00 am A day in March 2008
Wake up hurting – everything’s hurting. My neck and shoulders are very stiff, my back aches, my feet are killing me, one arm is numb and the other has pins and needles going from shoulder to finger-tips – but oddly only the little and ring finger.
Worry – a lot. Come on, I was diagnosed as ‘likely’ are in November last year, and definitely in February – so how come it’s still not sorted. OMG, what if it never does get sorted? Am I going to end up a wheelchair? Will I cope? Will hubby cope?
And where the heck is that physio appointment they promised me months ago?
4:00 am A day in March 2014
7:00 am March 2008
Wake up feeling completely un-refreshed and cursing myself for having spent an hour in the middle of the night worrying instead of sleeping. Worry some more as I creak my way gradually out of bed, gently testing bits of me to see how mobile they are. The relief of shaking off the pins and needles and then plunging my hands into warm water is enormous.
7:00 am March 2014
Wake up, blinking the ‘sleep’ out of my eyes. Slight stiffness. Hubby draws the curtains and says, ‘How’s the Penguin?’ ‘Stiff and achy,’ I reply, but then I realise that this is nothing to how it felt a few years ago, really NOTHING, and instantly feel a bit better.
7:30 am March 2008
Take a hydroxychloroquine and a diclofenac and wonder if they’re helping or not. I know I have to wait another couple of months to find out. It’s frustrating!
7:30 am March 2014
Take a hydroxychloroquine and an ‘arcoxia’ cox-2 inhibitor. I had to stop taking the diclofenac eventually after a nasty stomach upset – the arcoxia are supposed to much worse for the stomach, but so far don’t seem to be worrying mine!
8:00 am March 2008
The stiffness is just starting to think about wearing off. My left knee is very swollen and I hobble out to my car using a stick, to head off to work. I’m wondering how I’ll make it through a whole day!
8:00 am March 2014
Stiffness? What stiffness? Did I say I was stiff and achy this morning? Heavens! I’d forgotten. That wore off in about ten minutes.
9:00 am March 2008
Work – chat to colleague – drink strong coffee – work some more. Try to remember to MOVE because otherwise I freeze into place and struggle to get out of my chair when I need to later.
9:00 am March 2014
Work – chat to colleagues – drink decaffeinated coffee (this change has nothing to do with the RA, but I have rosacea and the symptoms of that are drastically decreased by drinking only decaf coffee rather than ‘caffeinated’), work some more. Move when I want to – it’s not a particular issue any more.
12:00 pm March 2008
Strewth I’m stiff – I got a bit too involved in some interesting work and haven’t moved out of my chair for an hour. Now I’m in the embarrassing situation of needing a ‘comfort break’ rather urgently and thinking it’s going to take me five minutes to un-stiffen enough to get there!
Time for the next diclofenac. Oh no! I’ve left them at home! Mad dash home in the car to get one, and then back to work.
12:00 pm March 2014
Lunch time – get up, stretch a bit, possibly say ‘creak’, which makes my ‘Junior Penguin’ colleagues chuckle, but really I’m quite mobile. Grab a bit of lunch and go for a mile walk – I know it should be longer … and faster … but it’s about what I can manage comfortably in the time I can spare and my knees aren’t right, though much better than they were a few years ago.
Happily no lunch-time tablets any-more – as life-style changes go, this one has had a surprising amount of impact ! I’d really hate to have to go back to trying to remember lunch-time tablets again!
3:00 pm March 2008
Really wondering if I can last until five. If I was on my own I’d be out of here – but I’ve got an employee now and I feel I should set a good example so I stay.
3:00 pm March 2014
Wow – I love this job – time for a bit of a coffee break and then back to some really interesting transcription about language usage … followed, for a bit of a change, by some transcription about sheep diseases! Variety – that’s what I love!
5:00 pm March 2008
‘I’m tired and I wanna go home’ but we’re really busy and I’ve promised someone to get some work back to them this week – I’d better stay a bit longer, even though I feel soooooo tired and achy!
5:00 pm March 2014
I’m outa here – life’s too short! My way of working these days is to delegate or subcontract what I can’t fit in between 8am and 5pm Monday to Friday. I’ve got about 15 hobbies (and one hubby… and friends) and I want time to enjoy them all… especially as, let’s be honest, I don’t know how long I’ll be able to carry on with some of my hobbies, especially those involving a lot of walking or using my hands! I don’t feel negative about it though – things are going well at the moment and I’m making the most of my free time!
6:00 pm March 2008
Still at work.
6:00 pm March 2014
Just leaving a friend’s house. I’ve popped round for a post-work chat and coffee. Feeling pretty fine.
7:30 pm March 2008
Just about manage to get some supper on the table. I only arrived home half an hour ago so it’s ‘oven fish and chips’. 7.5g of methotrexate tonight, with another diclofenac, another hydroxychloroquine and a lansoprazole (stomach settling tablet).
7:30 pm March 2014
We’ve eaten already – I like to eat early and have the evening to play in – especially as I’m usually in bed by 9:00 pm these days – I find an early night makes a huge difference to my general well-being.
Tablets were 17.5g of methotrexate (yeah, it’s gone up a lot but I don’t care – it’s working, and there’s still room for it to go up a bit more … although I do worry sometimes about what happens if/when I’m up to 25g and there’s nowhere else to go because my symptoms are too mild to get anti-TNFs etc. on the NHS!), and another hydroxychloroquine and a lansoprazole.
9:00 pm March 2008
Getting ready for bed – head still buzzing with what’s happening at work, worries about health, worries that I’m not finding time to do the things I love and speak to the people I love, worries, worries, worries. Heaven knows when I’ll get to sleep. Read a book for a bit to try to take my mind of it.
9:00 pm March 2014
In bed sipping a cup of decaf coffee that hubby’s just made me. Feeling satisfied that I’ve done a bit of Spanish ‘homework’ and managed quite a chunk of embroidery and a bit of crochet this evening, while watching an interesting documentary on the telly and discussing it with hubby later in some depth. Reading a good book on my iPad and feeling very relaxed.
10:00 pm March 2008
Oh no – I really don’t feel sleepy. I’ll read some more and try to relax. ‘Come on Penguin – light’s out’ says Hubby. ‘Just another five minutes’ I say, knowing he’ll be asleep in four and I can carry on reading!
10:00 pm March 2014
11:00 pm March 2008
Better put the light out. Toss, turn, toss, turn.
11:00 pm March 2014
1:00 am March 2008
At last … zzzzzzzzzzzz…..
1:00 am March 2014
2:00 am March 2014
Wake up – stiff, in pain, pins and needles – wriggle about until I feel vaguely comfortable, lie awake for 20 minutes and eventually drift off to sleep.
2:00 am March 2014
Wake up – roll over – zzzzzzzzzzz…………….
And so another day starts in the life of Pollyanna Penguin …
Tags: arthritis, doctor, folic acid, GP, joint pain, medicine, NHS, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatology
I’m Pollyanna right? I can do this glad-game thing! OK, I’m glad I’ve had to go to the surgery and the chemist three times this week because it’s given me an opportunity to enjoy more of the beautiful spring weather (in between the showers). I’m glad the doctor completely screwed up my last prescription in three different ways, because otherwise I wouldn’t have had that lovely experience I’m so glad about. I’m glad that I had to go in to the surgery reception tonight and point out that even after a conversation with the doctor yesterday, he had not sorted out the correct repeat date for my folic acid, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had that amusing conversation with the receptionist about kicking her cat.
Hmm … doesn’t sound too convincing, does it, really? Well I am at least trying – but it’s very trying, especially as I’m still at the tail end of a flare.
Here’s what happened – in brief – I hope, although I do have a tendency to waffle on, as you may have noticed.
I put in my repeat prescription as normal, picked it up Monday, got it home and realised that my folic acid was missing. As my folic acid was the only thing I’d run out of (I just ordered all the RA drugs at once to save another visit to the chemist) I was a bit peeved. I contacted the surgery reception and had a conversation something like this:
Polly: I’ve collected by repeat scrip but it doesn’t include my folic acid.
Receptionist: Ah … let me look it up. Oh I see, that’s because you’re not due any until March.
Polly: Yes I am, I’ve run out.
Receptionist: Oh no, you can’t have. You see it was issued last month, and you take it three times, on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Receptionist: So that’s three times a week
Receptionist: And they issue you twelve, so …
Polly: Yeeeeeeees …
Receptionist: <lightbulb going on> Oh! That is actually a month’s worth, isn’t it?
Receptionst: Oh … in that case it looks like the doctor’s made a mistake.
Well, to cut a long story short(ish) that wasn’t the only mistake he’d made, so although I was able to have my folic acid rushed through and pick it up in time for me to take it on Wednesday, I then realised there were two other things (non RA-related) also missing from my prescription! I checked the repeat prescription paperwork and it quite clearly said that those things were due now … and that the next batch of folic acid was due in … April.
So I phoned again and asked for a doctor to call me back to discuss this, which he duly did! I had a very pleasant conversation with him, while being driven to my mum’s house by a colleague in order to turn off mum’s faulty burglar alarm … but that’s a whole nuther story … and, after an entire repeat of the conversation with the receptionist – ‘You take it three times a week … we issue twelve … OH!’ etc. he assured me he’d change it on the system and also put through a prescription for the other two things.
Tonight I went to pick them up, feeling happy, relaxed and full of the joys of spring. I went into the chemist and sure enough they did have my other two items ready. Hurrah. Then, foolishly perhaps, I checked the paperwork. Instead of saying ‘Folic Acid – due 26 March 2014’ in nice, neat print, it said ‘Folic Acid’ and then 26 March 2014 scribbled in in biro over the printed ’26 April 2014’! All very well except that a) I could do that myself, and indeed when I next put in a repeat request the doctor (probably not the same one) would assume I HAD done it myself and just not issue me any, just like the last two months and b) what happens when I want some more in May or June or whenever and the issue date is for two months down the line again?
So I went in and, having honestly been really nice and polite to the receptionist the first time (and not mentioning breathtaking incompetence at all), and really nice and polite to the doctor (in spite of mum’s alarm going off in our ears in the middle of the conversation), this time I blew my top, flipped my lid and generally had a big squawk! The receptionist was lovely – didn’t apologise exactly, they never do I’ve noticed, and neither do the docs, probably terrified if they say sorry I’ll sue them for something, but was very helpful. She put in a note for the doctor saying it did need to be changed, please, and suggested I call tomorrow to find out if it’s actually been done. (She obviously has as much faith in the system as I do!) When I said that I was sick to death of going in there and had had to come in three times in the last three days she said, ‘You should try working here. I love my cat, but honest to God I go home each night and want to kick it!’ Don’t tell Enormous Cat, but this evening I knew how she felt!
Tags: arthritis, Arthritis Research UK, fundamental science, joint pain, medicine, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Rheumatoid Arthritis Pathogenesis Centre of Excellence, rheumatoid arthritis research, rheumatology, scientific research
Look around the RA blogging community for a while and you’ll see some consistent themes. One is that it’s hard to explain to Joe Public what RA is – another is that most of the drugs are by-products of research into other diseases (methotrexate for example, and most of the biologics were developed as cancer treatments) and there is little fundamental research into RA.
That picture has been getting better over the last few years, and it’s taking another step in the right direction. Arthritis Research UK, along with the Universities of Glasgow, Newcastle and Birmingham, is funding a major new initiative, the Rheumatoid Arthritis Pathogenesis Centre of Excellence, to be run from Glasgow. The centre’s main focus will be on why RA starts, why it attacks the joints, and why it doesn’t stop. These are fundamental questions, basic science, but the answers, if they can find them, are likely to lead to a host of potential new treatments.
As I understand it the ‘centre’ is virtual rather than physical, but it will mean the three universities and other partners undertaking major collaborations into these fundamental areas.
Science is a slow business – results may be a long time coming – but it’s great to know that there is a good level of funding for this fundamental research into rheumatoid arthritis.
And remember – if you’re based in the UK too, you can get 20% of Physicool products until 9 November 2013.
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, 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.