Tags: arthritis, flare, helpline, joint pain, nurse, prednisolone, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), steroids
Hurrah – I finished my week’s worth of prednisolone last night and I’m glad to say the knee is better! Oh … and the helpline phoned me back … on Monday … so five days after I phoned them. Yeah, like I said, they really are NOT for emergencies! I didn’t actually get to speak to her as she phoned on the home number even though I’d requested they try me at work. ‘If you didn’t manage to speak to the doctor or need some advice, do call us back.’ I did see the doctor and didn’t need advice, so I haven’t called back.
I’m still getting a bit of pain in that knee on and off, but then I usually do; I’ve got full ‘bendability’ in it and most of the time it’s not hurting, so I’m quite content … although I do feel as though I’ve just run a marathon, having been cheering on Andy Murray as I watched him (on the telly) fighting his way to the semifinals at Wimbledon!
Tags: aches, arthritis, blood test, cats, doctor, flare, flare-up, GP, hospital, joint pain, knee, medicine, methotrexate, MTX, NHS, nurse, pain, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness
Thanks to the state of the NHS today (which, if you read this blog often you will know I harp on about endlessly) it is simply not possible to have a relationship with your GP these days (unless you’re incredibly lucky or live on some tiny island that actually has its own GP or something!) My GP practice has around 10 GPs plus locums. It’s pot luck who you get to speak to when you call and they phone you back, and then if they decide you should be seen you won’t see the person you spoke to that morning.
It also seems that they don’t have much of a relationship with the hospital and seem to have some sort of mythic belief in the power of the rheumatology helpline, as I’ve also mentioned before.
The patient calls the GP because they have an RA flare. This is a shocking waste of the GP’s time because these lucky, .lucky patients have an RA helpline that they can call and that will solve all their problems. They can speak to a lovely nurse* straight away and the nurse will wave her magic wand, waggle her magic pixie ears and solve the patient’s problem.
* Actually that’s the only true bit – the one we have at the moment IS a lovely nurse!
The lovely nurse, or even a secretary or receptionist, never EVER answers the helpline. It is an answerphone. That’s the way it’s set up. It’s not an answerphone on odd occasions when they’re exceptionally busy, it’s ALWAYS an answerphone. The message on the helpline says something like: ‘If you’re calling about a non-RA related problem, please call your GP. If you’re calling to change an appointment, please call reception. If you’re calling about an urgent need, please call your GP. If you’re calling to buy fish, please contact your fish monger. If you’re calling to moan about Brexit, please contact your MP. If you’re calling because you’re a moron, voted ‘Leave’ and can’t work out what a helpline is for, please call someone else and bother them. Now, if you really, really want to leave a message, we suppose you can. Give us your hospital number and name and telephone number and we’ll try to call you back in 24 hours – but no promises mind.’
I don’t know about you (actually I probably do, if you have RA) but I consider a flare pretty urgent.
While in an ideal world I would sit back on a couch, watch the telly and let my servants feed me grapes while I rested my knee and waited to see if it would clear up on its own, I do actually have a life (and no servants, and hubby is great but also has a life, and the cat just ain’t interested in helping), so I can’t just sit about and rest it. On that basis I can’t wait potentially 48 hours or more for the helpline to phone, and the nurse say, ‘Call your GP and get some prednisolone’ because then I can’t call the GP until Monday as 48 hours is Friday morning and by the time I’ve heard back from the helpline the GP has run out of appointments. By that time I will have been flaring for over a week!
What Polly did Next
So … I went to the appointment grudgingly granted me by the grumpy GP. (Ooh, nice alteration that penguin!) Fortunately it’s with a much more pleasant locum GP than the one I spoke to on the phone. Unfortunately of course she doesn’t know me from Adam (or strictly speaking, as a doctor, she can probably spot I’m not Adam from the wobbly bits, so I should say she doesn’t know me from Eve). This means that she doesn’t know if I’m a moron or not, and therefore has to assume I am, as we always have to cater for the lowest common denominator.
‘How can I help you?’
‘I’m having an RA flare in my knees, as usually particularly in my left knee. It’s stiff, not very flexible and painful at times.’
‘Have you called the helpline, because really -‘
‘Oh, and what did they say?’
‘I said I’d called them, not that I’d spoken to them!’ I then explained, gently, ’cause she was a locum and therefore wouldn’t necessarily know any better, the realities of the helpline. (I didn’t mention Brexit or fish mongers.)
‘Hmm, you had a blood test only yesterday and your bloods were hardly elevated at all.’
‘They never are.’ The mere fact that my bloods are even a smidge elevated is a pretty strong indication of a flare with me. Sometimes I flare and there’es no indication whatsoever in the bloods. Now this is where a doctor relationship would come in handy. If she’d actually known me, known that I’ve had RA for nearly ten years, known that I’ve had umpteen flares in my left knee, known that blood tests are not a helpful indicator with me, known that I have a brain, we could have skipped the pointless bits, more of which are coming up.
‘Ah, well let’s have a look.’ Prod, poke.
‘Did that hurt when I pressed there?’
‘No, I just thought I’d make screamy gurgling noises for fun.’ (Nope, I didn’t really say that either, I just said yes.)
‘Can you bend it?’
‘This much.’ Demonstrated a very slight bend.
‘Ah. Have you tried pain killers… like paracetamol?’
I’m afraid I just looked at her and laughed, finally managing to choke out a ‘yes’, followed by ‘interspersed with ibuprofen.’ She looked amazed that I’d been able to think of painkillers all by myself.
‘Well I’ll prescribe a course of steroids. Now if they don’t work, we’ll have to consider other possibilities like osteoarthritis, as they should work for RA.’
‘Well, they’ve worked every other time I’ve had them, so touch wood that they will this time too.’
‘Oh … right.’ Look of mild astonishment, either that I’d had them before (it’s in the notes dear) or that I actually knew that I’d had them before, who knows.
So I thanked her very nicely, ’cause I’m a well brung-up penguin … and I might run into her again, and off I went to the chemist to get my steroids.
Again, after nearly ten years of RA, I think I recognise an RA flare when I see one … I really hope I’m not proved wrong and that the steroids do work again this time and it doesn’t turn out to be OA. That would be sooooo embarrassing after this post!
Tags: blood test, GP, GP surgery, injection, methotrexate, MTX, nurse, RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatology, sickness, surgery
At the behest of the hospital rheumy nurse, I’ve just been down to the surgery to have a blood test, since as I’m hopefully now getting more methotrexate into my system with the injections, they need to make sure that I’m not overdosing.
I got to the surgery, I went over to where the board hangs up where you collect your number and wait to be called for a blood test – no board. I headed back to the reception queue – the MASSIVE reception queue, the slow reception queue – in fact it wasn’t slow, it was immobile.
It took me 20 minutes to get to the front of the queue to say, ‘Where are the blood tests?’ only to be met by a blank look and, ‘Isn’t there a board …’
‘No, that’s why I’ve been standing in this queue for the last twenty minutes.’
‘Oh … well one young lady went home sick so perhaps they’re not doing them.’
‘It would have been helpful to put a notice up to save me queuing, and probably halve your queue at the same time!’
‘Oh, isn’t there a notice up? I’ll talk to someone about that right now.’
‘Don’t bother – they finish at 11 anyway and it’s 11 now.’
At least I needed to go anyway to get a printout of my new repeat prescription with the Metoject pen and then put that in to be reviewed by a doctor.
I sympathise with the sick phlebotomist; I sympathise with the rushed off their feet reception staff; where I draw the line is attempting to sympathise with blatant incompetence. How much effort would it have been for one of the receptionists (perhaps while she was getting coffee, as one of them did while I was queuing) to write a quick note saying, ‘No blood tests today due to staff sickness. Please try tomorrow but ring first.’ Not long I suggest. It also wouldn’t take long to inform all the receptionists (all three of them) that there are no blood tests, and yet clearly that hadn’t been done either.
It’s a good job I wasn’t going for a blood pressure check as my blood is boiling – at least it’s keeping me warm on a cold day!
Tags: #futureofhealth, arthritis, Conference, consultant, doctor, Future of Health, GP, Health conference, hospital, nurse, physiotherapy, R.A., RA
I’m on my way to the bright lights, big city of London for the Future of Health Conference 2014. And if Simon Stevens can pull off his Five-Year Forward View then he will indeed be a Wizard – and not just a Wizard of Oz.
The plan has a lot of good things. One is a focus on prevention – something really fairly new to the NHS if they’re going to take it seriously, not just say ‘Do you smoke? Do you want to stop?’ when you go for your flu jab at the GP, so that they can claim their smoking prevention bonus!
Then there’s a focus on patients gaining control of their own care. Sounds great – but what does it actually mean? Maybe I’ll find out on the train down as this is my planned reading matter.
Then they want to break down barriers in the NHS e.g. between GPs and hospitals, doctors and social services etc. Well I don’t think that’s anything new on the wish list front – it remains to be seen whether they can actually change deeply embedded cultures to get it done!
GPs are going to be given the option to combine with other specialists, e.g. mental health and social care, to form ‘Multispecialty Community Providers’. Hang on – isn’t this just the old consortium idea under a fancy new name? Sprinkle a little magic name dust over an old idea and see if it blooms into a beautiful new service.
There’s other stuff too – if you’re interested go and read my planned reading material link above – but those are the bits that resonate with me.
This tweet by the King’s Fund, an independent charity focussing on improving UK healthcare, focuses on where the money’s going to come from – always a good question in the NHS, and even more so in this economic climate!
Part of the new plan involves ‘managing demand’ and while I’m not sure I agree with everything in the link below, there are some good points, and some points I haven’t quite got my head around yet.
I can’t help thinking managing resources (not just human resources) and managing burnout should also be high on the agenda.
This is certainly not just an American issue. It’s something we patients see all the time. It’s also not just in doctors. Some of my previous posts about nurse practitioners and even physiotherapists would suggest that it’s ‘health care professional burnout’ that needs to be a concern, and is ladling on more models and targets etc. actually going to help with this? I doubt it.
And this from the King’s Fund again:
It’s suggesting that the NHS has too many doctors and not enough support staff including nurses, considering that the new plans focus on integrating more and using nurses for EVEN MORE stuff. I’m ambivalent about whether that’s such a great idea anyway, but if it’s going to happen then how could the NHS have predicted and trained the right number of doctors/nurses given that a) some bright spark comes in and shakes up the NHS every 3-4 years so no one can plan anything anyway and b) medical schools aren’t going to stop training doctors because they’re funded on how many doctors they train …
It makes my brain hurt! I’m so glad I’m not Simon Stevens. Good luck Mr Wizz. See you on Friday at the Future of Health Conference.
Tags: aches, arthritis, GP, hospital, joint pain, knee, NHS, nurse, nurse practitioner, physical therapy, physio, R.A., rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness
I can’t believe I haven’t posted since June. I wish I could say that that’s because I had nothing, RA-wise, to post about, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. In fact throughout June, July and August I probably did have ALMOST nothing to post about, but, although I’ve kept off those dratted antiinflmmatatories, things aren’t quite so hot now.
It’s just little niggly things at the moment – niggly knees mostly, as it always is with me, plus waking up in the night and finding my right-hand index finger is very stiff and very painful. I have a horrible feeling this relates to my increase in crocheting lately, and I’m wondering if I’ll be able to complete my Diploma in Crochet … although thankfully there’s no time limit so if it takes me a week to crochet a 4″ square, so be it!
And talking of crafts, I’ve just been to the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexander Palace – a 3.5 hour journey there, mostly by coach, a 4 hour journey back (due to the coach almost breaking down but managing to limp to our drop-off point in the end!) and a loooong day browsing the exhibitions (so-so), trade stands (fabulous yearly treat for a rural type with few local craft shops!) and enjoying a workshop too (Dorset button making). We went on the Friday and it knocked me FLAT for the rest of the weekend but it was worth it!
I also had my hospital appointment not long ago. To my astonishment it went very well – they called us in individually, so again we didn’t have to line up like ducklings behind the mother-duck nurse, and there was a new rheumy nurse there (well, new to me, and young) who was absolutely delightful – she hasn’t had the soft, caring side knocked out of her by working too long for too little and too many hours at a time … yet. She was very sympathetic and very helpful about the knees, which were playing up at the time, although more from the medical (go on, have them drained, it’s not that bad – hah, like she’d know!) side than the practical ‘help yourself’ side of exercises, cold compresses etc. And thereby lies, in my non-expert opinion, one of the biggest problems with any giant organisation such as the NHS. It’s inevitable that everyone has their own specialties, but they do tend to get siloed. She didn’t offer me physio – but then again … I didn’t ask. In all honesty I didn’t feel I needed it, and perhaps neither did she! I know how to manage the low-level pain now – sometimes I may need reminding, being a dopey penguin, but I do know!
And that lack of ‘joined up thinking’ leads to the next thing – I got a letter recently asking me to ring the surgery to discuss ‘some blood results from the hospital’. Slightly worrying that – especially as it arrived on a Thursday, I didn’t get it until Thursday night and I was off to London on Friday, so couldn’t ring until Monday. Anyway, I rang on Monday. ‘Oh’ says the doc. ‘They want us to check your cholesterol risk.’ And ‘quite right too’ I hear you say. ‘You’re overweight and you should do something about it and they’re right to be vigilant.’ Well, yes, but here’s the thing … the surgery themselves had just checked my cholesterol about three weeks before and established that I was low risk.
If the nurse at the hospital had asked me about it, instead of sending me off for bloods and not even telling me she was checking that, I could have said, ‘They’ve just done that at the surgery. This is my level, I’m apparently low risk.’ Instead, lovely as she was, she wasted the following resources:
- A blood sucker (aka phlebotomist)
- The lab doing the work on the cholesterol
- The hospital secretary
- The surgery secretary who sent out the letter
- The GP who had to call me back and discuss what we’d discussed three weeks before
‘Joined up thinking’ is no longer the buzz phrase of the day, and it sadly didn’t work when it was, but a little bit more of it would be a wonderful thing.
Tags: arthritis, clinical commissioning, GP, NHS, nurse, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology
Last time I had my monthly (now three-monthly) rheumy nurse appointment at the surgery, they happened to be running the first walk-in blood test clinic. These will run every Thursday – no appointment necessary, just turn up any time on Thursday, take a ticket, sit down, wait to be called and have your blood taken. No actual nurse appointment – in and out, ram in the needle, suck the blood, off you go. Well … that’s the theory.
My rheumy nurse had blithely assured me that they had run trials on this and each person could be seen and sent on their merry way in 1.5 minutes. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that this wasn’t quite the way things were going on the day I happened to be there. As I say, I wasn’t there for one of these walk-in tests – I just had the dubious pleasure of observing while waiting for my appointment. I am supposed to go along in a couple of weeks time for one.
Well I arrived around 8:30 for my appointment and saw a big board on the wall with raffle-ticket type numbers on it. They had obviously run from 1 to 50 but 40 of the tickets were already gone and the waiting room was alarmingly full. As I sat down a weary looking phlebotomist poked her head round the door and yelled ‘Seven … seven? Is number seven here?’ Number seven was not there – I think number seven had got fed up with waiting and gone home!
‘Eight … number eight?’ A grumpy woman got up and pointed out she’d been there since 7:30 that morning and had now waited an hour for one of these quick appointments.
When I went in for my appointment (dead on time, bless her!) my dear nurse looked a tad frazzled. ‘What IS going on out there?’ I asked, and she explained that this was the first run of this new system, they were two nurses down and the practice manager was on holiday! She was trying to fit in the odd ‘walk in’ patient on top of her full rheumy list, to help out.
Well – that couldn’t be helped, could it? I mean if people call in sick, you’re stuck, aren’t you? No one to blame. And of course the NHS can’t afford to employ locum/bank nurses to fill in – just one of those things, I thought.
Then I thought again. I know this place, I thought … ‘Erm … dear rheumy nurse,’ says I, ‘how long have these ladies been off sick?’
‘Oh, don’t!’ says the dear nurse, ‘Joan’s been off so long I can’t even remember and Julie’s recovering from an operation so she’ll be off a while.’
Right … so whose bright idea was it to start off this system KNOWING they were two staff down and couldn’t possibly cope? I don’t know but I can guess … someone who was on holiday, perhaps?
By the way, when I came out from my 15 minute appointment there was a nurse shouting ‘Ten … number 10 …’
So ‘we can turn these people round in 1.5 minutes’ had apparently turned into ‘We can turn these people around in … um … probably about 15 minutes’ given that there were two nurses doing this walk-in full-time and others stepping in when they could.
Number 43 was off the board by then – I wonder how long until they ran out of tickets – I overheard a receptionist saying, ‘Oh, I think they’ve all gone – you’ll have to come back next week’ to someone, before realising there were some tickets left, so presumably there are only 50 slots and ‘Turn up any time on Thursday will actually mean ‘Turn up before 9 on Thursday or you’ll be out of luck.’
Of course the new Clinical Commissioning system that is now in place but not in place and has no one actually running it is no doubt partly to blame … but that’s a whole nuther story …
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, Arthritis Care, Disability, Disability Living Allowance, DLA, Motability, MP, NHS, nurse, Personal Independence Payment, PIP
The Disability Living Allowance in the UK is being replaced by PIP – the Personal Independence Payment; double-speak if ever I heard it! Everyone who currently claims DLA will have to be re-assessed for PIP, and Arthritis Care estimates that 42% of people who can currently get a car through the Motability scheme and higher-rate DLA will lose their cars through PIP.
At the same time I have just heard that the district nurses in a region near to us are no longer going to be doing what district nurses do, visiting people in their homes! So people are going to lose cars and then find themselves unable even to see a nurse. Apparently if people absolutely cannot, by any other means, get into the surgery, they will be provided with a courtesy car. I’ll be interested to see how that works out, and how much it costs, considering the district nurses only ever visited the people who couldn’t get into the surgery anyway!
The other thing that PIP is going to do to ‘save money’ is to change the current DLA walking test from inability to walk 50 metres ‘reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely fashion’, to someone who can’t walk 20 metres ‘reliably’. Reference to repeatability has notably been removed, so that anyone who can walk 20 metres on the day of their test will presumably not get PIP, even though with things like RA or MS, one might be able to walk a mile one day and no where the next.
2o metres is patently absurd; it seems to suggest that so long as someone can walk as far as the corner of their road or a neighbour’s house then they are fit enough to fend for themselves. According to the MP briefing prepared by a campaign group that Arthritis care are involved in, the 20m has not been based on any medical or scientific evidence; so it’s clearly a cynical decision to save money.
But in reality, much like the district nurses, how much money will it save? People who have their independence taken away from them will obviously be calling more on public services for help. The money will be being spent; just not from the same budget pot.
Who is this going to help?
Agree? Please write to your MP and tell them what you think and why. You can use the Arthritis Care Hardest Hit Campaign tool to help. All you have to do is put in your name and address; the tool will find your MP, produce a letter, which you can edit if you wish, and then you just press send to get it emailed over. It takes seconds – and it could make a real difference.
Photo by Leo Reynolds, (C) September 4 2010, licensed under Creative Commons
Tags: arthritis, consultant, diagnosis, doctor, hospital, NHS, nurse, nurse practitioner, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology
Something’s going on. Call me a nasty, suspicious, cynical penguin, but this just isn’t normal. I went for my routine rheumatology check – you know, the one where they say, ‘Oh go away – we’re not interested in you. Call those symptoms? Ha! I see people in a much worse state than you every day!’ (As though that has anything to do with the price of fish.) But this time it was different … It started off with the usual intro as though we’d never met before, but this time, as I looked at her blankly, she actually said, ‘Oh – we’ve met before, haven’t we?’ Then she looked at the notes – yes, the ones she’d taken in with her five minutes before she called me in, but obviously hadn’t read, and went, ‘Oh yes, I saw you last time.’
OK, not an auspicious start, but nevertheless, better than expected. But here’s where it gets weird. She asked how I was. I said fine. She said ‘scale of 1 to 10’ and I said ‘1’. She looked blank. ‘Well, is there anything you want to ask me?’
‘No, not really.’
‘Well … is there anything I can do for you?’
‘You can say, “You’re fine. Go away and come back next year,” and then I’ll do that.’
‘Yes, but … I mean surely … ‘
What’s going on here – you usually can’t wait to see the back of me.
‘I know – you haven’t had any x-rays for ages. We ought to check there’s nothing going on below the surface that we’re unaware of.’
Really – I was diagnosed in 2007. In 2009 I mentioned x-rays and how the guidance said they should be done a year afterwards and then every so many years – but it was poo-pooed. ‘No, you’re fine. We see worse people …’ etc.
I haven’t had any x-rays done since and it hasn’t worried anyone.
‘Good heavens, do you know, you haven’t had any x-rays done since you were diagnosed!’
‘Yes, I know.’
‘Well I really think you should have them done. I know it’s inconvenient coming in specially and I know they’re a bit of a pain, but I really think …’
‘Fine. I’m happy to come in.’
And then, to make matters even more Alice-down- a-rabbit-hole, she said they could arrange the x-rays to fit in with another appointment I had, to save on trips in. Hang on – when has the hospital ever put itself out to help its out-patients? This is new – but I’m not complaining.
Of course, in the next couple of days the universe got itself back on track. The appointment for x-rays arrived, on a completely different day to my other appointment and at an impossible time two days from when the letter arrived.
Ah – that’s more like the NHS I know and love, I thought. But wait … I emailed them (yes, they’re now so far into the modern age you can email them, woohoo) and said, ‘Sorry, can’t make that, but I will be in the hospital on this date for this appointment. Can you fit round it?’ And wha’-do-ya-know – they actually did!
So … did it work? Did they fit in? Did I run late for the next appointment? For answers to all these questions and more, you’ll have to wait for the next exciting episode of … Polly’s Adventures in NHS Wonderland.
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!