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, exercise, fatigue, joint pain, knee, pain, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, sleep, stiffness, tiredness, work
I’ve spent the last six months on a very useful course run by our local university business school, on helping small businesses to grow. It’s been great and I’ve met some lovely people along the way. Tonight we were asked to do a ‘showcase’ where each of the businesses on the course had a little exhibition stand and said a few words into a mike and generally chatted to invited guests, university bigwigs, previous course attendees and each other.
Unfortunately I was dreading it because I knew the admin was a mess. Fortunately although the admin was a mess, a handful of very brave people had stepped in at the last minute to salvage what they could, and they did a marvellous job. However, as suspected, when we arrived to set up our exhibit, rather than the floor-plan with everyone’s tables labelled, display boards there and of course, vital for me, and definitely requested in advance, CHAIRS, there was organised chaos.
Fortunately the wonderful people who’d stepped in at the last minute were on hand to sort everything out, and equally fortunately we’d brought some folding chairs with us! I did feel sorry for some of the others though, as there were no chairs available at all.
Having said that, once the evening got going I hardly had a chance to sit down, as we were all buzzing about and chatting to each other. There was a really good atmosphere and, in spite of not looking forward to it, we had FUN. On the other hand, I’m absolutely wiped out, completely shattered, totally exhausted … and my left knee is giving me gyp from so much standing around.
Entirely my own fault of course. I had a chair, I have the capability to sit down in it, but I suppose it was partly not wanting to miss out on anything and partly the old not wanting to admit I had a problem, leading to one of those conversations. You know the ones: ‘My auntie’s got arthritis too. It’s all cleared up though since she started rubbing in bindweed’ or ‘all you have to do to get rid of it is lose some weight.’* What I should have done was go and have a chat with the yoga lady and get her to give me some stretching exercises – but every time I looked in her direction (at least right up until the last few minutes) she was deep in conversation.
Oh well, working from home tomorrow so I think that might start with a bit of a lie-in!
* Not that I’m denying that would help!
Tags: aches, arthritis, cold, flare, flare-up, joint pain, knee, knee cosy, pain, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness, stress, warm, weather
Oh crumbs – it’s snowing! You may remember that in my previous post I was winging about the cold the other day; well, it’s colder.
Yesterday the journey home was worse than I ever. I had a hectic day at work but I felt fine (if a little stressed) … and then I left the office to go home.
The moment my left knee found itself outside it started to complain, and the complaints got louder as I drove, to the point where I knew I wasn’t able to concentrate a hundred percent on my driving. Not good!
Although I get the ‘traditional’ sore and achy hands and feet of RA, the worst affected thing has always been my left knee, and if I have a flare that’s usually where it starts. This is the first year I’ve really noticed the cold affecting it though.
I’ve been trying to think of a way to keep that knee warm, specifically while driving. A lap blanket (Afghan in the US I believe) wouldn’t be safe, as it might slip into the foot-well and get tangled with my driving foot. (Fortunately, considering the sate of the left knee, I drive an automatic!)
I’ve decided the solution might be a ‘knee cosy’! I’m not quite sure yet how it would work. Perhaps a combination of a sports-style knee protector and a pouch that could incorporate one of those gel reusable hand-warmer type things?
I’m disappointed, but not surprised, to discover I’m not the first person (by a long, long way) to think up the neat ‘knee cosy’ moniker, but people are using it as a name for lap blankets, not for my cunning plan. I may have to make this my Christmas craft project!
Tags: aches, arthritis, exercise, fatigue, fibromyalgia, joint pain, knee, neck pain, pain, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), sleep, stiffness, stress, tiredness, weather, work
Well more split Penguin really – my right side is ready to take on the world this morning, but my left side just wants to go back to bed with a hot-water-bottle (or perhaps Enormous Cat on hot-water-bottle duty). This is not my usual pattern – usually I have, for instance, a bad knee and a worse knee, or a pair of bad shoulders, but this morning everything on the right is fine but my left hand, elbow, shoulder and knee are all stiff and painful!
I rather suspect that this has as much to do with fibromyalgia than it does with RA, because although the knee and elbow feel joint-related the shoulder is definitely muscular … well, when I say definitely it’s actually hard to be sure I find, but it doesn’t feel like the usual rheumatoid arthritis pain. I’ve had a few problems in the last few days with it, having foolishly swung round to grab something behind me on Saturday and then found myself curled up in a ball on my chair going, ‘Ow, ooops, I really shouldn’t have done that’.* Unbelievably I then did exactly the same thing twice on Sunday! It’s such a dumb thing to do for someone who knows damn well they get problems in neck and shoulders! I blame the fact that they’d felt so good lately that I’ve been less aware of having to be careful … which I suppose is something I really can’t complain about.
Oh well, I have a mountain of work to get through today thanks to the over-enthusiasm of a colleague on Thursday who, forgetting I was on my own for the first half of the week, may have bitten off more work than we can chew, so I’m going to have to let the right side rule!
*This is the expurgated version
Tags: acceptance, aches, arthritis, flare, flare-up, joint pain, knee, neck pain, normality, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness, tiredness
I’ve been thinking a lot lately (although writing very little!) about what ‘acceptance’ of RA means, and also about redefining my idea of ‘normal’. I hadn’t managed, and still haven’t managed in fact, to get my thoughts into words, but I think this afternoon I came as close to ‘acceptance’ as perhaps I ever will.
As I was relaxing in the bath (sorry, probably ‘too much information, especially for those that know me!) and letting my thoughts drift along pretty randomly, I started to think about some of my friends and colleagues: one’s still coping with the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake; one’s recently widowed; one’s, to put it bluntly, losing her marbles; one’s spending this weekend picking up the pieces in her house, since large swathes of the downstairs flooring were dug up on Friday to find a leak.
Good grief, I thought – I’m bloody lucky! I have a loving (and all-round fab) husband, a terrific family (especially the nearest and dearest, including the recent addition of Mrs Mooseface), I have great friends, I enjoy my job, I have time (never enough time of course, but some time) to indulge my passions of messing around with textiles, drawing and pottering about in bits of nature, and although one could always be better off financially, the finances aren’t a complete disaster! The interesting point is that at no point during these thoughts floating over the bubbles did I consider, ‘Yes, but I do have this bloody disease to deal with, so perhaps not so lucky after all.’
It’s not as though things are going great with the RA at the moment either. I wake up every morning in pain, although it often clears for the most part within the hour. I go to sleep most nights in pain. I have pain and stiffness during every day. This is perhaps extra frustrating because for around four months between a flare in March and sometime around August, I felt as though I was pretty much fine, almost symptom free, nearly in remission. And yet, in a way, this on-and-off low-grade (for the most part) pain has just become the norm for me. It’s just another thing to put on one side and live with – and yes, I do appreciate I’m lucky that I can put it on one side at the moment, it’s not so bad that it stops me doing all those things I consider myself lucky for, but what interested me was the fact that it was so far into the normal, everyday that I didn’t even give it a thought when considering other people’s problems and drifting into comparing my life to theirs.
I think I might have once ranted that I will never ‘accept’ this disease, and don’t even mention the word ‘embrace’ in the same breath as rheumatoid arthritis, but perhaps this is acceptance, Penguin-style.
Tags: acromoclavicular joint, flare, knee, pain, physical therapy, physio, physiotherapy, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), shoulder, swelling
Well, I’ve had my physio – both knee and shoulder. Woohoo! The physio had no problem working on the knee once she had the doctor’s note!
As anticipated, the ultrasound made the knee a bit worse to start with but then much better! I had the ultrasound Friday morning and by Friday pm the knee was already greatly improved. Of course I SLIGHTLY over-did it on Saturday, but when the local needlework shop is tragically closing down but magically having a 40% off everything sale, what’s a girl to do? So then yes, I paid for it on Sunday. Today the knee is fine again though, having had a rest yesterday.
I also had ultrasound on both acromoclavicular joints (joint between collar bone and … well, not sure which bone really, but see below), even though when I saw the physio on Friday neither were that bad. They continued to be pretty OK really until this morning.
OUCH! Today they’ve been really, really painful, and definitely reduced mobility in the left one, although not dramatically. No good trying a wax bath there either, so I’m wired up to my TENS machine at the moment. Stupidly didn’t think to take it into work today. DOH! I must remember to take it in tomorrow … and ignore the strange looks!
Tags: aches, acromoclavicular joint, knee, physical therapy, physio, physiotherpay, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, shoulder, steroids, stiffness, ultrasound
Well … half-an-hour’s drive, ten minutes or so waiting, thirty minute consultation … and the answer turned out to be, for the moment anyway, not to physio! Aaaaaaargh! I’ve only waited since January for this appointment. Still, there were perfectly sound reasons not to physio – and at least I had a fun time in the waiting room reading old copies of National Geographic!
There was one small thing I hadn’t accounted for … I’ve just started a (very) short course of oral steroids for a very swollen knee, and the physio that works for me, or has always worked for me in the past, is ultrasound. Obviously the steroids are busy trying to reduce the inflammation, and equally obviously that is intention of most treatments including the ultrasound. Aye, but there’s the rub … (talking or rubs I must rub some of that nice ‘Nature’s Kiss’ ointment into my knee … I keep forgetting about that … but back to the main point), the way that ultrasound works (putting it simply, which is the only way I know!) is that it apparently INCREASES the inflammation quite rapidly in order to trigger the body to go ‘ooh, that’s inflamed’ and kick into place a process for doing something about it.
So … if I had ultrasound, my physio basically thought that I might well be either inadvertently cancelling some of the steroid effects or, at very least, wasting my time because the steroids might counteract the ultrasound without it being able to do anything.
Now the physio wasn’t at all sure about this, and neither am I, but we decided it was better not to risk it so I’ve got to go back again on Tuesday morning!
The more I think about it the more I’m not convinced by this whole argument … but I’m way too tired to work out why now, so I’m off to bed and I’ll give it some thought tomorrow!
Tags: arthritis, cats, knee
Poor Middle-Sized Cat had an emergency vet appointment yesterday after having spent most of the day throwing up … on various floors, various mats, our bedding … By three o’clock hubby was wondering if the end was nigh, so we got him a vet appointment. If you know cats you’ll no doubt guess that by 5:30 when we saw the vet he was quite perky and made us feel a bit silly for panicking.
Temperature: normal, colour (how they tell under the fur I’m not sure): normal, growling at vet: normal, showing interest in the bit of food she waved at him: normal. She actually said he was in excellent condition for his age, which was good to hear. The only problem … he’s got bad arthritis in one knee!
Poor lad, I do sympathise with that. I presume his is osteoarthritis, but dashed unpleasant nonetheless.
The vet has recommended cod liver oil, of all things! I thought that was on old wives tale, that it actually helped. People still talk about it ‘oiling the joints’ which is obviously nonsense, but presumably it does actually do some good. Anybody know how? I’ll be trying to track some down for him today, and hopefully he’ll actually like the taste! (If not there’s no chance of getting it down him!)
And while I’m talking cats, for anyone who remembers my old posts about Tiny Cat 2, you’ll be glad to know she’s settling down well, although ‘run away’ is still her favourite phrase. She does grudgingly accept cuddles most days now and is even sometimes happy to curl up on my lap (or sometimes hubby’s) for a good fuss and purr!
Tags: Add new tag, arthritis, doctor, doctor's receptionst, doctor's secretary, GP, knee, knee joint, knee pain, Rheumatoid arthritis, steroid injection, steroids, swelling
Just went to the doctors to pick up a letter the doc said he’d write so that I could send it to the train company in the hopes they’ll refund the tickets for a trip to Wales I had planned, but had to cancel because of the state of my knee. ‘Pick it up early next week’ he said. So I thought well, I’ll leave it until Wednesday to make sure it’s done.
Went in this evening – explained to the receptionist. She looked in the file. ‘I’m sorry, it’s not here.’
‘He did say I should pick it up early in the week.’
‘Well it’s only Wednesday now love.’
‘Well to my mind early in the week means Monday or Tuesday, and I left it until today just to make sure it was done.’
‘Well it depends how you look at it really, doesn’t it love? Early in the week could mean Wednesday too.’
‘No, not really. I’d call that midweek.’
‘Oh well, nothing I can do I’m afraid – it’s not here.’
‘Well could you at least check my notes to see if he’s made a note to do it?’
‘Well … I don’t know if …’ Sees the steam coming out of my ears, ‘Well, I’ll have a look … Oh, well it says here it was done yesterday. Thing is the secretaries have all gone home now and perhaps they haven’t typed it yet. The only thing I can suggest is that you call and ask for Dr Dashes secretary, Debbie, tomorrow, and she’ll be able to tell you exactly what’s happened to it.’
So off I go, fuming and steaming, not to mention limping, only to get home and find a letter on the mat addressed to me. Open it and what do you think is inside? The letter from the doctor.
Soooo thoughtful of the secretary to realise that she’s writing a letter about someone with a very swollen and painful knee, and wouldn’t it be a kindness to post it? Such a pity the doctor wasn’t equally thoughtful … as he’d told me to pick it up.
There, feel better for the rant!
More importantly my knee is also finally on the mend – I think the steroid injection, however painful it was at the time, has really done the trick.
Tags: joint injection, knee, RA, Rheumatoid arthritis, steroid injection, steroids
Well I went and saw the GP today – she rolled her eyes when I told her about yesterday’s phone conversation and commented that they used to be quite happy to see people and anyway what else was it going to be. ‘Funny you should say that,’ I said, ‘that’s what I said.’ I can only assume that with all the budgeting stuff that goes on now, the hospital would rather the GP was paying for the injection and they didn’t have to spend the money at their day unit.
But the good news was that my doc was able to do the injection at the surgery, and try to draw off some of the fluid as well.
The bad news was that she didn’t manage to draw off any fluid and it hurt like blazes. I shall have to remember, if I ever need one of these things again, to apologise in advance for any swearing, screaming, moaning or kicking that might ensue! Alright, kicking is a slight exaggeration and I think I just managed not to swear, but I’m really not someone who’s squeamish about injections and I normally pride myself on not being a total wimp! So doc and I had a mutual apologising session and then she did the actual injection.
She did warn me, and she was right, that it would probably feel marvelous for a couple of hours thanks to the local anaesthetic but that then it might well feel worse as the steroids wouldn’t kick in for perhaps 24 hours, and that I should rest it for at least that long. Perhaps fortunately for my knee, I was also starting to develop a corker of a migraine, so although I went back to work for a little while I soon went home and spent the day in bed.
Only time will tell, but so far although it’s hurting slightly I’ve already got a lot more movement in it than I did this morning, so it looks hopeful.