Tags: aches, Amoxicillin, doctor, methotrexate, MTX, NHS, R.A., rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, work
Well, the last few weeks have certainly been interesting … in the Chinese curse kind of a way, although there have been some great highlights including a couple of painting classes and a textile workshop. Mainly though, things have been rather dominated by toothache … and irritation!
I had a niggley toothache, not bad, just on and off, but with a lot of sensitivity to hot and cold as well, so eventually I bit the bullet (ouch) and went to the dentist – who ummed and erred a bit and said that hopefully it just needed a bit of filing down, but if it didn’t it ‘could be nasty’. Not the words you want to hear from a dentist really. He said if the filing down didn’t work, to come back the next day … it didn’t; I did.
Now bear in mind we’re extremely busy at work at the moment and the dentist is in a village up the road and it takes around 20 mins to get there from work. So a visit takes at least an hour all told – and I had to do two in two days – frustrating! On the second visit he did the briefest of examinations and said, ‘Reckon it’s an abscess – have some antibiotics’ … so I did … but I was cursing because I thought, ‘Why didn’t he just give them to me yesterday, and save me an hour?!’
I got back to work, opened the packet of Amoxicillin, glanced at the leaflet inside and it said, ‘If you’re taking any of these medications, talk to your doctor first’ and one of them was methotrexate!
Muttering under my breath I picked up the phone and phoned the dentist – and had to waste more time trying, and failing, to explain what the problem was to the receptionist. Understandably the dentist wasn’t available immediately – no doubt he had his hands in someone’s mouth – so I waited for him to call back … and waited … and waited …
I knew there was absolutely no chance of getting hold of a doctor that day and, as the tooth was getting worse, I didn’t want to wait until the next day and then I had a brainwave … or perhaps a brain storm (in the old-fashioned sense!) I thought, ‘Hang on – isn’t that 111 number supposed to be the NHS non-emergency number – they can answer queries, I’ll ask them.’ I took a brief look at the website and it said ‘111 is the NHS non-emergency number. It’s fast, easy and free.’ Sounds good, I thought, so I rang it. It was answered very quickly and as I was talking to the pleasant lady who answered I noticed on the same page as ‘non-emergency number’ it said, ‘You should use the NHS 111 service if you urgently need medical help or advice but it’s not a life-threatening situation.’ I felt a bit embarrassed because clearly it wasn’t that urgent, and even more embarrassed when I explained the issue and she said, ‘What symptoms are you having?’ And I said, ‘None – I haven’t even started taking it yet!’ She was lovely though and put me through to ‘a clinician’.
Now I’d done a bit of a checking up on the internet first and the issue is that Amoxicillin can cause the methotrexate not to be properly excreted from the body, resulting in a potential build-up of toxins from the methotrexate. I could find no indication of a) how much MTX you’d need to be on to have a problem b) how much Amoxicillin you might need to have a problem or long you’d have to be on it for or c) How long the effects might last, since I’d had Amoxicillin only about 3 weeks ago for the sinus infection that was part of the reason we failed to get to Barcelona!
The clinician came on the phone. He clearly had not the foggiest idea why it would matter that I was taking MTX and Amoxicillin, so I briefly explained as above. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you seem to know the answer then.’ Helpful … not! So I pointed out that no, I didn’t know the answer, since the question was having been prescribed it, should I or shouldn’t I take it? What was the level of risk? And so on …
‘Oh … er … um … well’ he said … and so on for a while … ‘I think I wouldn’t risk it really. You need to talk to your dentist.’ I explained I was trying to do that and would continue to do so! I felt very strongly that he really didn’t have the foggiest notion and was just covering his back, as if he had said, ‘Oh I think it’s fine’ and then I died of toxic MTX build-up, that could have been his career down the tubes … and I suspect it was a career that had barely got off the ground so far anyway.
So I called the dentist back – receptionist again – and to look like I wasn’t nagging I said I had a bit more information that I’d previously forgotten to mention (which was true) and explained that I’d also had Amoxicillin in April and wasn’t sure if it stayed in the system. Given that Mr Dentist phoned me back almost immediately this time, I can’t help wondering if she’d completely forgotten to pass on the message the previous time.
‘Oh,’ said Mr Dentist, ‘I’ve got some different information from you … as I understand it, the Amoxicillin can cause a build-up of methotrexate in the system.’ I said yes, that was the information I had too and he said that that wasn’t the message he’d been given from the receptionist. I bit my tongue, swallowed down the sarcy comment on the tip of it and said sweetly, ‘Oh dear – I obviously didn’t explain it very well then,’ which in fairness was probably true!
‘Well,’ he said, ‘You’re a sensible sort of girl. I’m sure you can monitor things and if there’s any problem, see your GP.’ I pointed out that I had no idea what sort of problems this toxicity build-up might cause. ‘Hmm, neither have I,’ said he, ‘you’d have to ask a doctor!’
So – I’ve now lost count of how much time I’ve wasted and really I don’t feel any nearer to knowing if I should be taking the damn stuff or not – but he had looked it up on the drug interactions database and said it didn’t appear to be a major problem, so I started to take it anyway.
The next day I decided that perhaps I should ask the doctor – after all, it’s only a phone-call. With the new surgery system you have to have a phone call first from the doctor and then they see you if they feel they need to, and I was sure they wouldn’t need to for a simple question.
Unfortunately I forgot to call until about 10 am so most of the appointments had gone. I explained the situation to the receptionist and said was there any chance of a call back and she said she’d have to ask someone. Now he was either new or a locum, not sure which, and for reasons best known to himself he decided he’d see me! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh, more time wasted!
So I went for my appointment and the first thing the pompous little man said was, ‘I don’t really believe in prescribing antibiotics anyway, but as you’ve been prescribed them … I mean normally the body can manage to heal itself without them. Of course there are some circumstances where one might have to, but it’s quite rare …’
I replied, ‘On the one hand, tooth abscess, notoriously difficult to get rid of; on the other hand, immunosuppressed; don’t you think this might be one of those rare situations?’
He looked quite shocked to have his little lecture so rudely interrupted and, pomposity temporarily punctured, he replied, ‘Oh …er … well … probably in this instance, yes.’
So … back to square one – do I or don’t I take the dratted antibiotics? And the answer was … YES! Take them. I have to say though that even the doctor didn’t seem absolutely 100% sure! He did check the database again and he did say, ‘It’s not even a red warning’ and I had seen on the internet that the evidence for this toxic build-up was quite slight and I, I think, not in humans, so I was somewhat reassured in the end.
I’m glad to say that the tooth does seem to be clearing up, and I’ve not yet keeled over from any toxic build-up!
Hubby did point out afterwards that I could have probably saved a lot of time and effort by asking the pharmacist – wish I’d thought of that! Must try and remember for next time. Another sensible option might have been to ring the hospital rheumatology helpline – but I haven’t used it since my very poor experiences years and years ago and I don’t actually know the number anymore. Next hospital visit, I must get it!
Of course, all this makes it all the more important to go for my monthly methotrexate blood test … and therein (of course) lies another tale … for a later post!
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, 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, 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: 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: 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, doctor, exercise, flare, flare-up, GP, joint pain, medicine, methotrexate, NHS, pain, physio, physiotherapy, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), steroids, stiffness
This perfectly innocent post title, no double entendres intended, is supposed to set the 1950’s scene for you. Maggie (friend and frequent commenter on this blog) has always said that the town where I live is like stepping back into the 1950s, and generally I reckon this is a pretty good thing. The 1950s is a pretty nice, cosy, friendly place to live; that is until you get hit by … da da da daaaa, 1950’s Doctor Man.
Alas, the knee has continued to flare and I decided, after having a lot of stiffness and pain yesterday, that I really should go back and say a) the steroids worked but they ain’t workin’ no more and b) can you ask the physio to have a look at the knee please? So I did. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, if you make a ‘same day appointment’ (and the choice is same day or 2.5 weeks away if you’re lucky) then you can’t choose your doctor; you just see whoever is available.
Now when I did this two weeks ago I hit the jackpot with Dr Locum Eye-Candy, but alas, this week my luck ran out and I got 1950s Doctor Man. Now don’t get me wrong, he was pleasant enough in a dried-up old stick kind of a way, and true to his 1950s roots he did listen patiently and he did actually bother to examine me properly (two things you certainly can’t count on these days in the NHS!), but then the downside of being in the 1950s kicked in, and I got the 1950s lecture about RA. I thought things had come on a lot since this kind of thing: ‘Well, that’s the nature of the disease. It’s a progressive disease I’m afraid and it will flare now and then. Now, I’m not trying to depress you but really that’s just the way it is and there’s not a lot you can do about it. You’re on a high level of methotrexate and other medication already, so … ’ And so on, and so on, for about five minutes.
I’m not actually saying he’s entirely wrong, by the way – fundamentally that’s probably true, but he didn’t make one single suggestion about sensible things I could do. OK, I wasn’t expecting him to suggest Reiki or a gluten-free diet or anything else that your average 2011 British GP would consider a bit ‘far out’, but what about, for example: exercise … or rest, apply heat … or cold, consider a steroid injection in the joint, come back if it gets worse, have physio, get hubby to do all the cooking, washing up, shopping etc. for the next few weeks. <Grin – of course he wouldn’t suggest that! Not the done thing at all in the 1950 to have a man doing all that!>
I must admit I wasn’t feeling very ‘with it’ and I damn near forgot to actually ask what I’d gone in to ask, which was since I was doing a 50 minute round trip every week for ultrasound treatment on my shoulder at the moment with the physio, could he please ask the physio to treat the knee too? Finally I did remember, and, give him his due, he agreed immediately and not only that but he actually wrote me a note (with his very smart 1950’s fountain pen) to take in with me, hopefully circumventing the need to wait five weeks for the next official appointment for a knee referral, by which time the flare will probably be over.
I did also ask him whether I should be exercising it or resting it, and he said definitely resting it … but is this right, I wonder, or is this just more 1950s medicine. Not that long ago the only recommendation for RA was ‘bed rest’!