But what if …

May 17, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 13 Comments
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So I’m increasing my methotrexate. Flippers crossed that all will go well, I won’t get any nasty side effects (except maybe appetite loss, which would actually be a great benefit!) and it’ll keep my disease in control for at least another five years … but what if it doesn’t?

Well I asked my consultant this at my last appointment. He’d said, ‘I’m happy to increase your methotrexate to 17.5 and then to 20 but after that we’ll have to start considering other things if that isn’t doing the trick’.

So I asked him point blank what other things? ‘Oh’ he said airily, ‘there are lots of other things available.’ Well it’s now or never I thought and said what’s been on my mind for a while: ‘I know about biologics, but I won’t qualify for them on the NHS, will I?’ He looked a bit startled and then had to admit that no, I didn’t stand a chance. With my fabulous blood results that never show anything wrong, I’ve got no chance of being offered them at all at the moment.

So … where would I go if the methotrexate doesn’t work or causes problems? Well, I can add sulfasalazine to the mix and see if that does any good. ‘Some people are on three DMARDs’ said the consultant, but even he didn’t sound really convinced about it.

So what it boils down to is that with the usual NHS foresight, if the methotrexate increase doesn’t work and then the sulfasalazine doesn’t work, I would have to wait until I was in a really bad way, unable to work, probably unable to walk (given that feet and knee are the worst bits of me) before they’d even deign to consider me for other treatments. As usual, let’s not make the effort to keep people OK and working – let’s wait until they’re falling apart before helping, even though surely doing it that backwards way doubtless ends up costing ‘the system’ more in the end!

Well, back to crossing those flippers and hoping it never comes to that!

You? Arthritis? Aren’t you a bit young?

May 2, 2013 at 9:37 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 10 Comments
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You know, when I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis six years ago, when I was 39, comments like that used to really annoy me. I lost count of the number of people who said things like ‘Oh, aren’t you a bit young for that? My granny has that. She’s lost some weight lately though and feels so much better.’

‘Why do people have to make dumb comments like that?’ I’d wonder. So I’d try educating them – I’d patiently explain that what I had was rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease where my body has decided it’s a neat idea to attack its own joints, whereas what their granny had was probably osteoarthritis.

My favourite response to that was ‘Oh no – she had a big bowl of cereal every day and had really strong bones.’ So I then had to explain that osteoarthritis was ‘wear and tear’ arthritis, and what they were thinking of with the milk was osteoporosis, which is a reduction in bone density that can lead to fractures amongst other things, and which can (maybe … sometimes) be avoided by a good calcium intake.

Usually, with a few deep breaths and counts to ten, I would manage an explanation that convinced them that granny and I didn’t have the same thing – but it did used to drive me nuts.

Now, seven years on, I’m 45, overweight, look 50 on a bad day, and nobody says ‘Aren’t you too young for that?’ any more.

I kind of miss it.

Niggles and Grumbles

February 13, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai | 6 Comments
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I’ve got grumbley hands and feet. I’m not sure that I’d use this description to the rheumatologist mind you, but it seems to fit. I’m not in agony; in fact,I’m not even in constant pain, but if I overdo it then the hands and feet … and knee of course, how could I forget the knee … grumble!

I’ve been getting a lot more grumbling going on over the last few weeks than I’ve had for ages. I think it all started with the flare that I had between Christmas and New Year, and there have been niggles ever since.

It doesn’t seem to matter what I’m doing – and in fact my hands have been better today, back at work and typing, than they were over the four-day weekend I’ve just had. (Fabulous birthday weekend away, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!)

At least I’m not grumbling much about work right now – we’ve had two weeks of it being dead quiet, and now it’s gone manically busy! It would be lovely it was a constant steady flow, but I’m much happier with it busy and buzzing than dead as a dodo.

Well, I don’t have a rheumatology appointment until May, and things are nowhere near bad enough to make me subject myself to one earlier, so I suppose by then the grumbles will either have done what they usually do miraculously in time for a rheumy appointment, disappeared – or they’ll be bad enough that I’ll be able to have a proper grumble to the doc about them! In the meantime I shall just grin and bear it … or possibly grumble and bear it.

A new drug target identified for RA

January 31, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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A protein called IRHOM2 has been identified as a possible new target for drugs aimed at treating RA, and could be useful for those who do not respond to anti-TNFs or even eventually replace anti-TNFs altogether. The full article on IRHOM2 can be found here, but here’s a short summary.

TNF or tumour necrosis factor has a useful purpose in the body; it is a signalling protein and it signals the body to produce a protective inflammatory response. Thus if a part of you is infected, TNF starts the process of inflammation, which takes immune response cells to the appropriate area in the blood, and they start to attack the disease-causers. In this case inflammation is a good thing.

However, when too much TNF is produced, immune cells start to act on things they shouldn’t, like our joints – leading to RA.

Anti-TNFs attack TNFs directly, and do a mighty fine job for many people, but they are toxic and can have nasty side effects.

IRHOM2 is a protein that helps to release TNF from where it sits harmlessly and inactively on the surface of cells, so attacking IRHOM2 should have the same effect as attacking TNF – reducing in TNF release and therefore reduction in inappropriately active immune cells, and so reduction in RA symptoms.

It is hoped that drugs targeting IRHOM2 would be less toxic, because they will only block TNF release from the specific cells that contribute to joint damage, and they could be an alternative for those who don’t respond well to anti-TNFs.

There is, of course, a long way to go. This is just the identification of a possible target. The next step is to find something that will actually block IRHOM2 and be safe to use in patients. Then there will be the long, slow plod (quite necessary for safety reasons!) through clinical trials, with no doubt a few failures along the way – but some years down the line this could be a real breakthrough. Let’s hope so!


p.s. I do hope this makes sense! I’m really, really tired and I haven’t had hubby proofread it yet!

Why are three-quarters of RA suffers women?

January 12, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 5 Comments
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Well, all those of us who suffer from RA and/or are women will already know that it’s not because we’re a bunch of winging Minnies, but until recently, although a genetic link was suspected, it had not been found.

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said: ‘This is the first time that a genetic association has been established between rheumatoid arthritis and the X chromosome. This could provide a useful clue in helping us to understand why rheumatoid arthritis is three times more likely to occur in women.’

It was reported late last year that among the 46(!) genes that seem to be linked to people getting RA, some have recently been discovered that are on the X chromosome. Now both men and women have X chromosomes, but while women have two X chromosomes, men have one X and one Y chromosome instead, and the genes don’t occur on the Y.

This is all part of a long-term study from the University of Manchester (UK) and the genes on the X chromosome are among the 14 found towards the end of last year.

Professor Jane Worthington, study lead based at the NIHR Manchester Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit, said: ‘This groundbreaking study brought together scientists from around the world and involved the use of DNA samples from more than 27,000 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and healthy controls’ She added, ‘We observed remarkable similarities with genetic markers associated with other autoimmune diseases,’ which is an interesting, but perhaps unsurprising finding.

The intention behind all this work is that it will lead to new ‘genetic therapies’ – drugs that can target certain genes and switch them on/off as appropriate. Let’s hope they won’t be too long in coming!

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!

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!


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!

‘I’m just going to rest my nose on my elbow for a minute’

May 2, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, fibromyalgia, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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If I had to come up with a list of the top ten things I never thought I’d be saying, that’s got to be up there among them!

I had a physio appointment yesterday for my dodgy shoulder – the one the doctor said was RA and would probably need a joint injection. Well … according to the physio it isn’t and it won’t … and I think she’s right. She thinks it’s likely to be inflammation relating to a previous episode of joint inflammation which caused the joint capsule to swell, so that the muscles around the glenohumeral joint, the ‘rotator cuff’, were pushed about a bit and got inflamed as well. The joint problem seems to have died down, leaving the rotator cuff problem zinging away like a good’n, unfortunately.

Apparently one in three people over the age of forty have a rotator cuff problem anyway, nothing to do with RA, so it might not even be linked, but since I’ve had no injury etc. to exacerbate it, it probably is.

Anyhow, this physio seems to have had prior training as a torturer, although she assured me that she started as a physio straight out of uni last year, but I’ve got to admit that with her heavy and darned painful massage, ultrasound and various exercises, the shoulder is a whole lot better already today, although she says it will probably take three months to heal completely … and that’s if I’m a good penguin and keep remembering to put my nose on my elbow!

Yes, that’s one of the bizarre exercises I have to do to stretch the muscles. Stand feet about a foot from a wall, rest my forearm on the wall in front of me with my upper arm at right-angles to the shoulder joint  and then … rest my nose on my elbow, for about three minutes a day, but not necessarily all at the same time. It really does stretch those muscles! Looks extremely odd though. I can hardly wait to do it in the office and entertain the junior penguins! (Or perhaps I’ll just slink off to the loo and do it there!)

The other main exercise involves lying on the bed with a can of beans and doing a kind of weight-lifting thing. At least having a can of beans by the bed makes it easy it to remember to do the exercise!

See the shattered penguin …

January 25, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Posted in fibromyalgia, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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I’ve spent the last six months on a very useful course run by our local university business school, on helping small businesses to grow. It’s been great and I’ve met some lovely people along the way. Tonight we were asked to do a ‘showcase’ where each of the businesses on the course had a little exhibition stand and said a few words into a mike and generally chatted to invited guests, university bigwigs, previous course attendees and each other.

Unfortunately I was dreading it because I knew the admin was a mess. Fortunately although the admin was a mess, a handful of very brave people had stepped in at the last minute to salvage what they could, and they did a marvellous job. However, as suspected, when we arrived to set up our exhibit, rather than the floor-plan with everyone’s tables labelled, display boards there and of course, vital for me, and definitely requested in advance, CHAIRS, there was organised chaos.

Fortunately the wonderful people who’d stepped in at the last minute were on hand to sort everything out, and equally fortunately we’d brought some folding chairs with us! I did feel sorry for some of the others though, as there were no chairs available at all.

Having said that, once the evening got going I hardly had a chance to sit down, as we were all buzzing about and chatting to each other. There was a really good atmosphere and, in spite of not looking forward to it, we had FUN. On the other hand, I’m absolutely wiped out, completely shattered, totally exhausted … and my left knee is giving me gyp from so much standing around.

Entirely my own fault of course. I had a chair, I have the capability to sit down in it, but I suppose it was partly not wanting to miss out on anything and partly the old not wanting to admit I had a problem, leading to one of those conversations. You know the ones: ‘My auntie’s got arthritis too. It’s all cleared up though since she started rubbing in bindweed’ or ‘all you have to do to get rid of it is lose some weight.’* What I should have done was go and have a chat with the yoga lady and get her to give me some stretching exercises – but every time I looked in her direction (at least right up until the last few minutes) she was deep in conversation.

Oh well, working from home tomorrow so I think that might start with a bit of a lie-in!

* Not that I’m denying that would help!

The joys of a winter routine hospital appointment

December 23, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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I really hate the winter half of my six-monthly hospital appointments. I suppose it could be worse. I have the nurse practitioner visit (usually bad) in summer (not so bad), and the consultant or registrar visit (usually OK) in winter (not so good), so you could say it balances out. I have just had my visit to the register – a very nice young lady who, while obviously struggling with the basics of the English language, still clearly had an excellent grasp of autoimmune diseases! It took rather a long time to find any of that out though.

At the risk of sounding like one of those very bad school essays (‘What I did on my holidays: I got up at 4am. Mummy was cross and said go back to bed. I got up again at 6am. We left the house at 7am. We arrived in Wales at 11:30 am’ etc.) here’s why I hate the winter appointment. I left work at 10:15 for what should have been an approximately half-hour drive to the hospital for an appointment a bit after 11. Why leave such a long time? Because it’s December. The weather was a bit rubbish and if you have an appointment you can guarantee to get stuck behind something slow. I did. Then there’s the car parking – always fun. I struck gold in the third car-park I tried. As you can imagine, after driving round three car parks, all for several minutes, I was starting to cut it fine, but as soon as I reached the Rheumatology Department I realised I need not have worried. The waiting room was heaving! I handed in my appointment letter, took my seat and waited … and waited … and waited. The usual charmless nurselet called me in, did the ‘weigh and wee’ and then I got sent to the equally busy inner weighting room … where I waited … and waited … and waited.

After about an hour a nurse came out and wrote next to my consultant’s name on the notice board ‘running one hour late’. Twenty-five minutes or so after that, I finally got seen. Fortunately I’d taken in a good book. Unfortunately, as it wasn’t so cold as last year, and they were probably even more short-staffed, no one offered us a drink. I hadn’t had time for a drink on arrival because it was time to check in, so I was a bit parched.

Useful appointment with nice registrar followed, which culminated in a further referral (who knows where, who knows when … but no hurry, nothing urgent!) and a blood test. ‘Will you give me a form so that I can get the test at my GP?’ I asked. ‘No, no,’ she said, no doubt intending to be most helpful, ‘you have it here. Just go to the blood test department …’

So, by now thirsty and pretty peckish too, but thinking I’d better get this done before heading for a café, I went and found the blood test department. Guess what? The waiting room was heaving AGAIN. That’s another reason for hating the December appointment. People get ill in the winter!

I went up to reception and got a ticket – 73. The number just called was 63. Only ten, I thought. Surely it won’t be that long. ‘What’s the waiting time likely to be, just roughly?’ I asked the receptionist. ‘Hmm,’ she said. ‘Could be up to 45 minutes … but it might be much quicker.’ Aaaaaaaaaaaargh. 45 minutes? Aaaaaaaaaaargh! And we were so busy at work too. So I phoned the duty junior penguin at work and went ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh’ down the phone at her. (It’s in the job description – ‘be prepared to listen to senior penguin going aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh periodically’.)

As it turned out though, the queue did go down quickly. All of a sudden they were charging through people and I was the only one left, and then my number came up, and in I went to be processed. (It did feel a bit like that this time, but given the numbers they were having to get through, I can’t really blame them!)

And so back home, stuck behind another slow lorry most of the way and then, somewhat peculiarly, a slow ambulance!  I eventually got back into work at around 2.15.

Four hours out of work: total time with medical staff, approximately 15 minutes. Frustration factor: high.

Merry Christmas, Felis Navidad, Feliz Natal and Happy Chanukah to all.

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