Tags: arthritis, hospital, injection, methotrexate, MTX, presription, RA, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
I got an invoice in the post yesterday from the hospital, ‘Charge for prescription fee’. I haven’t had a prescription fro the hospital – what the heck are they on about? Then I thought, ‘Aha – it’s probably for my appointment on 8th Feb – the injection’ so I phoned finance and pointed out that I had a pre-payment certificate, expecting a whole load of argument about, ‘Oh, we don’t deal with those’, but no – it went very smoothly and she processed it through with the pre-payment certificate- all fine.
Then I took another look at the invoice for some reason – not sure why – and read it properly. ‘Charge for prescription fee 17.01.16 – as no credit terms are offered, please remit by return. If no payment is received within 30 days the invoice will be passed to our debt collection agency.’
Now I was pretty riled and slightly confused – but imagine how some poor little old lady would feel receiving that – OK, it’s not a large amount of money but the aggressive tone is enough to give you palpitations if you’re that way inclined. (I’m not, luckily – it just made me cross!) So I phoned the finance department back and said, ‘Oy, what’s this about 19th of January. I wasn’t there on the 19th of January.’ only (slightly) more politely. ‘Just a moment, I’ll check …’ <Hold music> ‘Yes, that’s right, it was processed on the 19th of January.’ Deep breath … ‘Yes, I know that … but I wasn’t there on the 19th of January so what is this for?’ ‘Oh … er…. we’ve only got the same info that you have – we’re just asked to process the invoice. So you didn’t have an outpatient visit?’ ‘No.’ ‘And you didn’t visit A&E?’ ‘No …’ Did I not just say I wasn’t there? Was that not clear enough? Obviously not. ‘Oh … well, would you like to check with pharmacy?’ So she gave me the pharmacy number and said, ‘But don’t worry, it’s processed on your per-payment certificate anyway.’ And I’m afraid that riled me even more – typical number-cruncher attitude – it doesn’t really matter what it’s for as long as the numbers balance. But I didn’t say anything except a polite thank you for the pharmacy number.
So I phoned the pharmacy – ‘Oh yes, it’s for an injection – it was sent to your GP on the 19th of January.’ ‘
‘It better not have been – because they can supply their own quite handily I believe – they don’t need them sent from the hospital. Are you telling me I’m being charged for something I’m not going to get because my next appointment is with the hospital, not the GP? Or is it perhaps a dose that’s been sent to the hospital rheumatology department, because I do have an appointment with them on 8th February.’ And of course that’s what it was. Hurrah.
Is it really that hard to put on the invoice ‘For hospital methotrexate injection on 8th February’ and take out the whole ‘You are an evil person who hasn’t paid instantly for something you didn’t even know about’ bit? Apparently so. Grrr …
And that only took 20 minutes to sort out and was a one-off. A very intersting post from Carla over at Carla’s Corner, on the time needed to cope with a chronic illness. I have a tiny weeny fraction of what she has to cope with and it still gets me grumpy and slightly stressed.
Tags: arthritis, methotrexate, MTX, RA, Rheumatoid arthritis
Hmm, how many times have I read posts about self-injecting drugs and breathed a sigh of relief that I don’t have to do that? Too many to count. Well, that time has ended, my friends – I will be injecting my MTX in three weeks’ time, after my ‘education appointment’ with the hospital. Mind you, I gather from a small amount of on-line research that this is a very easy subcutaneous (under the skin) injection; not the sort of nasty intra-muscular injection that biologics users have to endure. It seems to be a simple (?!) question of using something like an epi-pen to squirt the MTX in with, but I will find out more when I go and get educated. Here’s hoping I get the sweet nurse I’ve been speaking to on the (yes, actually helpful) helpline, and not the bored and horrid nurse I’ve never liked from day one. We shall see. Either way I will endeavour to be a good girl, listen hard, take it all in and get it right first time. (Not getting it right first time could be messy!)
The reason I’m moving to this course is that I sometimes get stomach problems that may or may not be from the MTX and that many people who take the dose orally don’t get the full benefit as some of it is digested, rather than moving on to the bits it needs to go to in order to work. By injecting, I can keep to the same dose, rather than increasing and risking the side effects that go with that, but hopefully get more benefit from the dose as all of it will go straight to where it’s supposed to go. That’s the theory, anyway. Apparently there are no other advantages or disadvantages of injecting – other than the obvious mild unpleasantness I’m assuming for the injecting!
Tags: arthritis, consultant, doctor, flare, hospital, methotrexate, MTX, NHS, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology
I’ve just had my April hospital appointment – well, it was supposed to be in April – then they moved it to June .. then they moved it to August … then they moved it to September … then they moved it to November… but this time it didn’t get cancelled. Right, I thought, I’ve seen no one at the rheumy department in 13 months, I’m going to make a LIST of things that I need to ask about, ’cause my memory’s shot. I know doctors hate lists but when you have to wait 13 months for an appointment you don’t want to forget anything, right? Right! Shame I forgot that I’d made the list then, and consequently forgot to ask about the dry mouth, although I think I covered everything else… except memory problems of course. I don’t think a rheumy clinic is going to be that interested in my forgetfulness anyway!
Everything else was more pain and stiffness in the hands and feet than previously, two nasty flares in my knees over the past year and a lump on my finger.
For the first two, my methotrexate has gone up to 20mg from 17.5mg. The nice boy (sorry, young man – I’m getting old, all the registrars look like children to me) was slightly horrified that I started off eight years ago on 5mg (or possibly 7.5mg) as they’re now much more aggressive and he said they’d never start anyone on less than 15mg so really 20mg is nothing. He also said if stomach upsets were a problem them can move me over to a self-injecting pen. I wasn’t too keen on that idea – I’ve only had two or three stomach upsets over the year that MIGHT have related to MTX and it’s possible that none of them did – I have a dodgy tummy anyway!
For the lump on the finger, he said since it was on my left middle finger and I’m left-handed it was probably just where I rested a pen. I said, ‘Who writes these days?! I almost never hold a pen! I type everything,’ to which he laughed, agreed and basically said, ‘Dunno’. It’s not painful and it’s not growing alarmingly so ‘dunno’ is fine for the moment!
The ridiculousness of the DAS score was brought home to me yet again. As the nice boy put it, ‘You might as well be amputated below the knee as far as that’s concerned’ and one of my main problems is feet! Daft! It also included a rating of how has the RA been THIS WEEK. Who gives a monkeys about this week – I haven’t seen anyway for 13 MONTHS! He took that on board too, bless him, and although I scored ‘low disease activity’ with four sore joints and pretty good thank you for this week, he accepted that my RA wasn’t under control if I’d had two bad flares this year; hence the MTX increase.
He also said if the appointments started slipping again, I should phone reception and point it out and they’d stop it happening – my faith in reception, on a score from 1 to 10 – zero. Not that I really think it’s their fault – they’re just the front line when it keeps happening and I phone up and say ‘Oy’ and they say, ‘Not our fault,’ which it’s not!
Anyway, I’ve got a nurse practitioner appointment in February – let’s see how much that gets moved – not that I need it in February – May would be more sensible, but I’m hesitant to cancel!!
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, 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: 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!