Update – RA, Cholesterol, Cats, Life etc.

August 10, 2013 at 10:15 am | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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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.

Fortunately/unfortunately

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.

Etc. etc. 

Health

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. 

Cholesterol

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!!

Cats

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.

But what if …

May 17, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 13 Comments
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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!

RA – it’s not ‘fair wear and tear’!

May 4, 2012 at 9:20 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 9 Comments
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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!

Support

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

Happy Birthday

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!

Polly Pulls It Off

March 14, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 9 Comments
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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’!

Throwing thyroid into the mix

June 15, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 5 Comments
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I went for monthly MTX blood tests today and remembered to ask if the thyroid results were normal – I’d assumed they were, since no one at the surgery had bothered to contact me. They weren’t.

Having said that, they weren’t all that abnormal either, so what are we doing about it? In their case nothing as yet, in my case getting rather confused …and cold …and tired … and achy … but mostly just confused. Until I went in and asked for the results I thought a thyroid test was just that, one test, one answer – OK, not OK, whatever. But no … it turns out there’s a test for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which is produced by the pituitary gland and stimulates thyroxine production from the thyroid gland. Then there’s tests for the two types of hormone the thyroid gland itself produces, thyroxine (T4) and the other one whose name I can’t remember (T3). Counter-intuitively, if you have lots of TSH sloshing about it means your thyroid might be UNDER-active, because you have to produce a lot of TSH to get the thyroid to do anything at all. If you have loads of T3 and/or T4 (produced by the thyroid gland itself) then you obviously have an overactive thyroid as the thyroid is producing loads of the stuff. If you have very little then clearly you have an under-active thyroid.

Symptoms of the latter include feeling cold when it isn’t (box ticked), weight gain or difficulty in losing weight (box ticked), muscle aches (box ticked), abnormal menstrual cycles (oh yeaaaah!), decreased libido (what’s libido again, somebody?), irritability (well … erm … guilty) and memory loss (not sure, can’t remember). However, my levels of T-whatever – not sure if they tested for T3, T4 or both, are in the normal range. My level of TSH though is just outside the normal range – just a smidge too high. As a consequence the docs have decided to wait and see. I can totally understand the logic of this – apparently it does fluctuate and it’s not as if it’s wildly off the scale, so try again in another month and see if it’s still high, and if the levels of T-whatsit have decreased or not.

Really – I can totally understand that – but it’s just sooooo frustrating, as I sit here grumpily shivering, with period pains! (Oh yeah, and a flare just to increase the fun.)

One interesting thing – apparently the most common cause of hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) is an autoimmune problem. Surprise, surprise!

As to the confusion – I’ve just about got it straight in my head that there are all these tests and roughly what they’re for, but nowhere can I find clear guidance as to what is and isn’t normal range for any of these tests – it seems that for TSH it used to be considered that up to 5.5 was OK, now they reckon about 4.5, or maybe 3.5, or sometimes 2 depending on who you ask, and apparently some authorities in the UK reckon up to 10 is fine! I’m just going to go off and find a nice sandpit to bury my head in for the next month.

An unexpected visitor and a grand day out!

April 12, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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Saturday was an absolutely glorious spring day – sunshine by the ton! My Saturday started by being woken by an unexpected visitor in the garden. I thought it was a cat and couldn’t understand why our cats weren’t responding to these incredibly loud meeows. The cats, of course, knew better! Here’s a picture of our visitor.

Peacock

Peacock in our front garden

The sight of him was a grand start to the day, but it just got better and better. Thanks to the f-f-folic acid on F-F-Friday I was f-f-feeling f-f-fine and I braved my first trip out in Hubby’s open topped MG. As bravery went, I wasn’t very! I had a long-sleeved t-shirt, two jumpers, a jacket, a ‘slanket’, a blanket, a hat and gloves!! It felt fab though, being driven along with the wind in my hair … there were times when I felt as though the wind was in my very bones, but mostly it was heavenly.

We visited East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden first of all – an extraordinary place which must surely have pioneered the idea of garden rooms. It’s very close to the coast (as you can see from the picture, where Happisburgh (pronounced hays-borough of course!)) Lighthouse is visible through a cleverly placed hole in a hedge, but due to incredibly skillful planting and deep, deep double hedges, they can grow the tenderest of plants, including stunning camellias.

View of Happisburgh Lighthouse from East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens

View of Happisburgh Lighthouse from East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens

Camellia at East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens

Camellia at East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens

It has to be one of the easiest places in the world to get lost in because there are so many paths and so many nooks, but although it feels really spacious it’s actually quite small so not even I can really get lost for long!

We made a couple of friends while we were there. The first can be seen below on Hubby’s lap. Note the gazes of mutual adoration. Not sure who’s cuter!

Hubby and the garden's resident chocolate Burmese cat

Hubby and the garden's resident chocolate Burmese cat

The second was equally cute but slightly more worrying. We’d found a nice secluded bench to sit on and soak up the sun for a few minutes, and were enjoying the peace and quiet when suddenly a very small child came barelling in from nowhere and jumped up on the bench next to hubby, pulling his legs in and crouching as small as possible. I whispered ‘Are you hiding’ and he nodded. After a few seconds, when no one had come to find him, he got bored and said ‘Did you know there’s a dinosaur head over there?’ We said we didn’t. (In fact we knew there wasn’t, because we’d already noticed the cow’s skull complete with horns in the part of the garden designed to mimic the Arizona desert, complete with a range of cacti etc.) I asked him if he was sure it was a dinosaur head and he assured me that he was – it was, he said, in fact a Tyrannosaurus Rex head. When we asked him how he knew he looked at us pityingly and said ‘Because it’s got horns!’ Then, grabbing a rather surprised Hubby’s hand, he said ‘Come and see!’ and dragged Hubby over toward the cow’s skull. ‘You’d better come with me!’ said Hubby hurriedly, as images of angry parents, police, child abuse accusations and court cases flashed through his mind! So off the three of us trouped, like a line of ducks, small child pulling Hubby along by the hand and Hubby pulling me along.

Fortunately at this point small child’s father caught up with us. More fortunately he obviously knew his son well! ‘Ah,  I see little Jonny has adopted you. Sorry about that. He has a habit of doing that.’ I explained that we were off to see the Tyrannosaurus head (and added ‘cow skull’ sotto voce when he looked confused). Laughing and apologizing he came with us, and when we’d admired the most impressive dinosaur and Little Jonny was satisfied, we went our separate ways. As we wandered of Father said to Jonny, ‘Which way shall we go now then?’ and Jonny replied loudly, ‘Well I’m going with them!’ Fortunately Father persuaded him otherwise, probably with a bribe of ice cream as we saw them later in the cafe!

The rest of the visit was less eventful but still very enjoyable, and after a tea break we headed off around the coast and stopped at Cromer. (Penguins like to see the sea!) We finally rolled home just as it was getting dark, tired by very content. Hubby commented that I was looking and sounding and moving better than I had for quite a while – I felt it too. Amazing what a spring Spring can put in my step!

Feeling a tad creaky today (Monday) but it’s m-m-m-Methotrexate day so hopefully by tomorrow afternoon I’ll be full of the joys of spring again (although perhaps a little queasy as I’ve not managed to see the doc about changing the folic acid dosage and timings yet!)

Sick as a Parrot

April 7, 2010 at 9:32 am | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 12 Comments
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Well, you learn something every day – I thought I was feeling sick as a parrot this morning, but when I looked it up it turns out I’m not. Sick as a parrot, in case I’m not the only one that didn’t know this, means depressed or disappointed about the outcome of something … I thought it just meant feeling sick … and boy do I feel sick!

I guess I shouldn’t be writing about this now because the more you think about this kind of thing, the worse it makes you feel. I think it’s the m-m-m-m-methotrexate as this is the second week in a row that I’ve taken my m-m-m-m-methotrexate on a M-M-M-M-Monday like the good girl I am, only to start feeling rather queasy Tuesday or Wednesday … right up until Friday morning when I take my f-f-f-f-folic acid … let’s see if the same happens this F-F-F-F-Friday.

I guess I could take something to settle my stomach, but my brother and sister-in-law-to-be (aka Mrs Mooseface on my comment section) are getting married in September (00ps, I meant August), and I’m kind of hoping that this might help me lose some weight in time for the wedding. Oh foolish vanity …

NICE fiddles while RA burns a hole in the economy and our joints

January 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 5 Comments
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I got my shiny new NRAS magazine through the post today. Great to see an article by Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy in there! Well done RA Guy! But there’s always something in there to get me aeriated, and the first magazine of 2010 was no exception!

Interesting also to see a two-page spread on the ‘European Fit for Work Report’. Frankly, I’m not sure there were that many surprises in there, although I was a bit surprised at the number of people who become ‘work disabled’. Apparently 40% leave work altogether within 5 years of diagnosis, which is not happy reading. However, it appears that the main reason for this is people being diagnosed and treated too late or incorrectly. The report recommended ‘new and more inclusive methods to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of treating musculo-skeletal diseases in particular; one that considers more than the up-front costs of medical expenditure and incorporates wider social and economic factors.’ No kidding. In other words, this report recommends doing exactly what NICE doesn’t do. The article goes on to say that ‘NICE in the UK has already begun such a deliberation, although no decision has been reached to date.’ No surprise there then!

Now, my honorable friends, please turn to page 12 of your NRAS magazine. Don’t have one? Not to worry – here’s the headline: ‘People on Enbrel stay in work longer’. It goes on to state that a 500-person study (the COMET study if anyone’s inclined to look it up) showed that those with active early RA were three times less likely to stop working if treated with MTX and Enbrel, rather than MTX alone. Absenteeism was also reduced by almost 50% for those on the combination therapy. But here’s the rub – NICE won’t allow anyone to start on a combination therapy like this until they have been proved unresponsive to at least two other DMARDS including methotrexate … so when does early stop being early? It takes, I would think from my own experience, at least six months to show that a DMARD is not working for you, because it can take them that long to start working. So you’re diagnosed (probably not immediately), you’re given a DMARD if you’re lucky, perhaps hydroxychloroquine, for six months; it doesn’t work. You try MTX (either on its own or in combination with HCQ) for another six months. That doesn’t work either. You’ve now been diagnosed for at least a year. Is this still early enough to count for this study? Perhaps it is. If so, fair enough. If not then are NICE ruining people’s chances of staying healthy yet again. I don’t know the answer – I just pose the question.

And finally to a little article by a brave lady called Jean Burke, who works with NICE to provide a patient viewpoint in their deliberations. Rather her than me but I am full of admiration. Apparently she was asked by a member of an appraisal committee ‘Surely a twenty percent increase in quality of life isn’t worth bothering about?’ Well, I suppose that’s why they need the patient viewpoint. If you’re reading this blog as someone with RA I imagine you’ll see it her way immediately; I know I did. She points out that if the extra 20% means she can make a cup of tea in the morning, go to work or walk to the shops then yes, it’s worth it!

So long as NICE remains in its ivory tower, untouched by all these deliberations about the socioeconomic effects of diseases and so on, I simply cannot see how the system can ever work effectively.

The ramblings of a bewildered and broke Penguin

January 19, 2010 at 11:35 am | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 10 Comments
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Firstly a ‘big shout out’ to Warm Socks for reading comment replies. Well done to you,  m’dear! I also read them when I remember to tick the little box, but I usually don’t remember.

Secondly, for them as don’t keep up with comment replies, like me, tinglywinglypingly is a thing of the past – hurrah.

Thirdly, I had my methotrexate last night and, unlike last week, not only kept it down but slept like a log afterwards and feel great today. Middle-sized cat is also delighted, as he tends to sleep next to/on top of me, so he also got a good night. After a trip to the V-E-T yesterday he’s now costing me about SIXTY POUNDS A MONTH in medication … but of course he’s worth every penny, and more.

Hey ho – it’s only money … not as important as health.

I obviously value him more than NICE values me, or rather values other R.A. patients who are not so lucky as I am currently! This article in The Guardian tells an all too familiar story.

Tocilizumab (another biologic), which costs £9,000 per patient per year (so about the same per month as middle-sized cat costs me per year … but then consider the difference in resources between lil’ ol’ me and the British government … on second thoughts, maybe not; I’m not quite broke yet), is being given to patients in Scotland (and indeed most of the rest of Europe), but NASTY has decided once again that it’s too expensive for patients in England. And once again the fact that it could keep people in work and reduce the costs of unemployment benefit, keep them walking and reduce the cost of wheelchairs, keep them out of hospital and reduce the costs of round-the-clock healthcare … etc. etc. etc. has escaped them. It’s an argument I’ve had with them a few times before on this blog, here and here and

I wish I could live in the dream world my consultant inhabits

December 27, 2009 at 11:03 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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It’s official – I had a flare at the end of October/early November … and more, I suspect. No kidding. I think I knew that, but this time it actually showed in the bloods! That’s a first for me!! I’ll give the consultant his due though – he was as amazed as I was that the bloods actually matched with how I’d felt, so he does at least appreciate that one can feel totally lousy and have no indication in the blood tests whatsoever, and vice versa.

Anyway, we agreed that things were going pretty well at the moment and that it didn’t seem sensible to go on increasing the MTX willy-nilly if things were OK. I explained that I knew I was much, much better than last time I’d seen him (which I think was well over a year ago, as I’ve since seen a registrar and a nurse but not the man himself), but that they certainly weren’t perfect, and for the first time he admitted that I probably wasn’t going to achieve perfect … I’d kinda figured that out, but still a slight blow to hear him say it!

He then cheerily added that never mind, compared to what he usually saw I really wasn’t bad at all. He has no idea just how bloody irritating this comment is – he’s said it before. I think last time I was too dazed and generally fed up to actually respond, but this time I was properly prepared and I pointed out that I wasn’t comparing myself with his other patients – I was comparing myself to myself before this whole R.A. business started, and that when I do that I don’t see my current self in a terribly favourable light. The nurse who sits in with him (as a chaperon and to make sure he remembers to fill all his forms in!) was nodding sympathetically and understandingly behind his back. I got the feeling she’d heard this comment from him before and had thought exactly what I was now saying. Anyway, he sort of blinked a bit, looked rather surprised at being answered back to and mumbled something that was vaguely conciliatory … I think.

Then he bid me to enter his dream world by saying, “If the MTX doesn’t keep things under control, if you have another flare, we’ll put you on these terribly expensive new drugs called biologics or anti-TNFs.” (He does tend to forget I have a brain.)

I snorted – very rude, but it just sort of happened! I said something like, “Have to be one hell of a flare for the NHS to let me on to those!”

“Oh no,” says he, “just an ordinary sort of flare.”

Well, that’s certainly not the impression I’ve been given by the NRAS magazine, the people on the NRAS forum (other R.A. sufferers, generally in a much worse state than me, who have failed the ‘DAS test’ for anti-TNFs), the press, people I met in Barcelona, the nurse practitioner, the GP, the practice nurse … just about everyone else really. Since this is the man that told me I should see him in three months last time, when it was totally impossible for anyone to get an appointment closer than six months, and the man who told me that all I needed to do if I had a flare was phone and I’d get straight through to someone on the helpline (not true as it’s usually unmanned and then they don’t call you back) I don’t feel too filled with faith about the biologics comment either! I dare say though that his “ordinary sort of flare” would be the ordinary sort of flare that his other patients have, not my little fizzle!

Well, hopefully the MTX will now do its job properly and I won’t need to ever find out whether he’s living in a dream world or I’m just being unnecessarily pessimistic about my prospects for biologics!

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