Knee flare

December 29, 2012 at 11:22 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 6 Comments
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Well, whadayaknow? A knee flare turns out to be some kind of strange ‘dance’ move: you can see it here. Unfortunately it’s also what I’m having one of right now …. I’m dancing too: from the freezer to the microwave and the microwave to the freezer … mostly on one leg.

It started on Boxing Day evening – that’s Wednesday for those outside the UK! Just mild stiffness going upstairs – didn’t really think too much about it. Progressed to serious stiffness Wednesday morning which I assumed would pass of during the day. It didn’t. It got worser and worserer. By Wednesday evening it had started to be painful as well as stiff. I took paracetamol and grumbled.

Thursday my mum was doing a lunch for us and some friends. Splendid meal, good company but my sociability somewhat dampened by knee pain. That evening Mum asked if I did ice-packs or heat packs? DUHHH! Why oh why do I always forget those things?!

Pretty much since then I’ve either had an ice pack or a heat pack on it, or I’ve been moving around on it. It makes a huge difference. I can’t believe how stoooopid I am sometimes! But on the bright side, at least it’s starting to mend – or if it isn’t, then at least I’m starting to feel better.

Second shoulder injection

December 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, fibromyalgia, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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Well, I’ve had my second shoulder injection. It was a week or so ago now, and it’s definitely working. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re a heck of a lot better than they have been.

This was an injection into the tendon, not the joint, guided by an ultrasound scan so they could see exactly where the steroid injection needed to go.

The advice in advance with this one was don’t drive and do rest for 48 hours, so hubby kindly took me into the hospital on his day off. We decided to go a whole hour early in case of parking difficulties, so of course we parked with ease! But when we came out an hour later, it was heaving and I was really glad we’d made the decision to go early.

I don’t know why they bothered sending out instructions in the letter to wear loose and washable clothing, since it turned out I had to take off the top half and put a gown on anyway, because my bra strap  was in the way!  That was only mildly embarrassing, when the gown flapped about because the nurse couldn’t find the tabs to do it up!

Then I sat down facing the radiologist and the screen, as instructed, and he scanned the shoulder with ultrasound. He confirmed the tendon was indeed inflamed, pretty much exactly where I thought it was, but happily not torn. Then he got me to put my arm in an incredibly uncomfortable position and keep it there, and took out a scarily huge needle. ‘Focus on something else, Polly’ I told myself as it came towards me.

‘Just a little scratch,’ said the doctor, cheerfully.

It was more than a little scratch but not madly painful. ‘Don’t think about the BIG, SCARY NEEDLE Polly’ I said to myself, ‘ la, la, la, think of little gambolling lambs and mountain streams. La, la, la …’

‘Look,’ said the doctor cheerfully, ‘You can see the needle on the screen!’

Mmm, thanks mate, just what I wanted! And sure enough, there it was, a long, straight stiletto floating about in the various incomprehensible (to me) wavy lines of the ultrasound. Actually it was quite fascinating to watch – for a bit. Then it started to jigger about alarmingly, and whether it really was jiggering about inside me, or whether I just thought it was and it caused me to tense up, I don’t know, but suddenly it was really, really painful. I must have made a that’s really, really painful face because the doctor realised it was hurting and said he’d stop for a bit.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I have a ruddy great needle in part of my anatomy I’d rather just press on, so to speak, and get the job done, especially if the alternative is to sit and rest for a minute with the needle still stuck inside me – so I said no, it was fine, and he carried on. Actually the pain did diminish, so perhaps I had just tensed up for a bit.

While this was going on another doctor came into the room and apologised for having been absent. ‘No worries,’ said the radiologist, ‘you haven’t missed anything. It’s just a shoulder. Boring.’

I gave a little involuntary chuckle, which went straight over the doc’s head but the nurse quickly added, ‘Not that we’re saying you’re boring!’

At that the radiologist did have the grace to look mildly embarrassed, and he said, ‘Oh believe me – it’s good to be boring! We do hundreds of these procedures so I know exactly what I’m doing. You don’t want something rare!’

Well, that was fair enough I thought.

‘By the way,’ I said, ‘when the instructions say “rest for 48 hours,” what exactly does that mean?’

‘Whatever you want it to mean,’ said doc with a kindly smile. ‘There’s no scientific basis to it. Just see how you feel and what you feel like doing.’ So I did. They day after the injection it didn’t hurt much so long as I did nothing but veg about and be a couch potato, but it did hurt if I did ANYTHING with it. So I didn’t do anything with it. I watched an entire season of Dollhouse (thanks Maggie) and let hubby wait on me when he got home! The following day I thought, ‘I’m fine – I’ll go into work’ so I did.

MISTAKE! Two hours at work and my shoulder was in a lot of pain – so I went home again. (Advantage of being the boss!) By the next day it really was much better and it’s continued getting better and better so far – so flippers crossed that will continue!

 

Shoulder injection has worked … a bit …

November 7, 2012 at 9:32 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai | 3 Comments
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When I had that shoulder injection I was finding it very hard to pinpoint exactly where the pain was, but I know it was kind of ’round the back’. Well … the pain round the back has gone, the mobility is improved but not great, but now I can exactly pinpoint the pain that remains and it’s to the side/front! I still can’t lift the shoulder much above the horizontal.

I went to see my GP about it last week and she’s put me forward for a scan. I was rather hoping for another injection but she says it’s too soon as, since there has been some improvement from the one I had, it should still be working away and might start to improve the other bit too. I rather doubt that, but she’s the doc, so we shall see!

The other thing she said was that if they do the scan and can see the exact spot that is inflamed, they can do the injection there and then and be sure that it’s in just the right place. And being the NHS, by the time the scan comes through I will certainly have left enough time between injections!

So for the moment it’s a waiting game … again!

In the meantime I have my second cold of the winter, and it’s not even supposed to be winter yet. <sigh, achoooooooooooo=””> I’ve also had an unpleasant flare through most of September and the beginning of October, but that seems to be over now – phew. As usual, nothing whatsoever showed in the bloods. In fact, when I have my six-monthly rheumy appointment in December I’m expecting him to say ‘Oh, did you have a bit of a flare in July – your bloods are slightly up.’ I was 100% fine in July!

Crash bang wallop

September 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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I’ve been cruising along very nicely thank you for the last few months. I made the mistake of getting used to it I think … Great, I feel fine  … let’s get on with stuff then. Well, you only live once, people to see, things to do, natural history surveys to complete, courses to go on, friends to see … Spanish to learn, embroidery competitions to enter.

Next time I see my rheumatologist, I thought, perhaps we can talk about reducing the MTX.

When will I learn?!

It started a couple of weeks ago with sudden, severe pain in my right thumb. Then it went away. I didn’t see it as a warning sign – I’d got too used to being footloose and flare free. Then it came back … and then other bits started to hurt too … ooooooooh-k, maybe this is a flare, I thought.

And it was.

Fortunately not a terrible one – one of my flare-ettes/aka fizzles, but bad enough to act as a little reminder. It’s over now … I think … but I’m back to being careful …

Well, apart from botanical drawing class an hour’s drive away on Saturday, more natural history recording on Sunday, interviewing tomorrow …

Immune system has an on/off switch ‘in the mind’ …?

September 8, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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According to this article in the New Scientist (6 September 2012) the “the immune system has an on-off switch controlled by the mind”. On reading the article, one feels that this isn’t actually as daft as it sounds at first. The point is that, “the immune system is costly to run – so costly that a strong and sustained response could dangerously drain an animal’s energy reserves.”

Hmm, does that start to explain the fatigue felt by so many RA patients and dismissed by so many doctors? Given that RA is apparently caused by an  over-active immune system, then surely a strong and sustained over the top response must be pretty fatiguing?

Anyway, back to the article … given that the immune response is energy sapping, the theory is that the immune system will only bother kicking in to fight a mild infection if it feels the reserves it will drain can be re-stocked. Apparently Siberian hamsters will fight a mild infection in the summer, when food supplies are plentiful, but won’t do much to fight it in winter conditions.

This leads to the idea that the mind has an ability to play up/down the immune response depending on whether it feels there is help available … and that leads to an explanation of why the placebo effect works. If you think you’re taking a drug to help fight an infection, say, that makes it worthwhile to put up a fight and bring in the immune system, the theory goes.

The theory has now been supported by some computer modelling, which is all explained in the article but which I won’t go into here.

It leads to some interesting questions, to my mind, about autoimmune diseases.

Being a little flippant here, does this mean that all sufferers of autoimmune diseases are optimists who are so confident that help will always be at hand, that we bring our immune systems in on the flimsiest pretexts?

Is the reason autoimmune diseases seem to have become so much more prevalent in the last few decades (so I’m told) because we’re all generally  pretty healthy (until we’re not) and so the body/mind doesn’t have to question whether there are resources available?

And finally, if there’s an on/off switch in my mind, then why can’t I just turn the damn thing off and get on with life?

Dentastic!

July 19, 2012 at 10:41 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me | Leave a comment
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I’ve just been for my regular three-monthly dental check-up. It was the nicest and most uplifting dental check-up I’ve had in my entire life, punctuated not by drills and pokey things but by comments from the dentist like, ‘Gosh, you’re doing a fantastic job looking after those gums!’ and ‘Yes, things are looking really good here’ and ‘You’re obviously brushing really well.’

Then he made an interesting point, and one that I’m sure is right. To summarise (as he can waffle on a bit), he said it’s amazing how everything comes as a complete package; when my arthritis was bad, my hands weren’t great (and certainly my arms), and consequently even though it wasn’t a conscious thing I probably wasn’t brushing as well or for as long. On top of that I was generally feeling pretty rotten and it’s entirely possible that a day went by here and there without me even giving teeth a passing thought. I’ve been really well now for a good few months, with barley a flare, and not that many twinges (except that blasted left knee, which is still a bit of nuisance), and my shoulder (non-RA) is recovering well, and as if by magic my teeth are doing fantastically too.

If you have severe RA those holistic effects must be blinding obvious, but I thought it was quite interesting that even with a very mild condition like mine, there are differences that can be seen in the most unexpected places.

How not to run a physiotherapy session!

July 11, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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Physio: Good morning! So, we’ve been doing acupuncture on your shoulder, yes?

Penguin: <Feathers on end, eyebrows raised> NO!

Physio: Oh … you seem very definite about that.

Penguin: Yes … I am.

Physio: Erm … what have we been doing then?

Penguin: Some exercises and some frictioning [a kind of massage on the tendon]

Physio: Oh yes, and how was that going?

Penguin: Well the frictioning last week really seemed to help.

Physio: Great. Let’s do some more of that then. Now, the exercises, it was this one, with your arm bent, raising up and out, yes?

Penguin: No …

And so went most of the session. Having said all that, she did do the frictioning and it did help, and once we’d established what exercises I was doing, all went relatively smoothly.

THEN she turned on her computer (with my notes on it of course).

What had happened was that I had the first appointment of the day and she’d obviously been running late and thought, ‘Never mind, I’ll wing it.’ So, a word of advice to health practitioners everywhere – don’t! I’m sure it took her longer to find out what she was supposed to be doing than it would have taken to turn on the computer before we started!

NHS wonderland part 2 – peeing in a pot for 24 hours

July 9, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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Well, I went for my x-rays – appointment booked half an hour before the dermatology appointment, and it all fitted in fine – I had about fifteen minutes to find the dermatology department once the x-rays were over, and I found it without any problem. All going rather well so far.

Then I waited … and waited … and waited … and waited – but that’s just the way it is. Fortunately I’d remembered to take a good book!

Dermatology lady said she’s fairly sure I haven’t got lupus (hurrah) but I have got rosacea (boo). Unfortunately I’ve been applying gunk to my face for nearly five months now and it’s not going away at all, so the obvious solution seems to be ‘try it a bit longer, and in the meantime we’ll discharge you’. Hmm … thanks a bunch!

Having said that, she was very pleasant, really took her time, asked sensible questions and listened to the answers. For that, I don’t mind waiting a bit!

One of the things she asked was, ‘Do you get night sweats?’ to which the only possible response was, ‘Do I get night sweats! You bet!’ So we talked about the whole ‘early menopause’ thing and the fact that although it started 5 years ago I didn’t seem to actually have gone through menopause and the hormones had never actually been fully investigated.

And that led to the delights involved in the title to this post. ‘I think we should test your hormone levels,’ she said, ‘ but I’m afraid the test is a bit long-winded. It involves a 24-hour urine sample.’ I couldn’t resist the obvious response. ‘I can’t pee for that long!’ Poor lady must have heard that one a few times before but she was very patient with me!

I have to keep all urine I produce over a 24-hour period and put it in a LARGE sample bottle, which I had to collect from the labs in a beautiful LARGE bag with things like, ‘Biohazard’ and ‘warning – dangerous substance’ stamped all over it, as it contains hydrochloric acid to preserve the sample, once the sample is in there. Luckily I had brought a bag for my book and other bits so I just put it inside that – otherwise slightly embarrassing to walk around with.

I haven’t done this test yet as she wisely suggested waiting for a day where I could stay in the house for 24 hours, and there aren’t many of those, but I’m planning to do it soon. Once done, and I’ll finish my 24 hours at 8 0′clock one morning, I have to jump in the car, dash over to the hospital, deliver the sample ‘for immediate testing’ and then dash up to the top of the hospital for a blood test – which should take place straight after the sample is finished – a bit tricky since I live 30 mins or so from the hospital! Never mind – hopefully it’s not THAT critical.

If anything comes out positive/negative/worrying about this test, that’ll mean further referrals etc. as it’s hardly a dermatology issue. It’ll be interesting to find out either way though, as the hot flushes and night sweats are horrendous at the moment and if there is something hormonal going on as shouldn’t be, it would be nice to know!

 

 

In the meantime I shall continue to be a ‘ruddy cheeked penguin’ – a rare breed indeed.

Polly’s Adventures in NHS Wonderland

July 3, 2012 at 8:27 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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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.’

‘Oh!’

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.

Stupidly, Alice never encountered a penguin, so here she is with a flamingo

Stupidly, Alice never encountered a penguin, so here she is with a flamingo

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.

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!

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