Monthly Archives: February 2012

Show Us Your Hands!

I have mentioned here before that my mom’s rheumatoid arthritis was most obvious in her hands. Did you know that “arthritis hands” are practically famous? This brings me to week eight (and all caught up) in my series on “42 things you might not know about arthritis”.

There is an awesome community collage project called Show Us Your Hands! that was inspired by a blogger superhero named Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy, who wrote that he is proud of his hands for what they have endured. It has grown into an international awareness movement that is helping to unite and inspire people with inflammatory types of arthritis.  As the project says, “Inflammatory arthritis hands are a visible sign of the enormous strength of people who experience so much pain, that their hands are literally being pulled out of shape.”

It works something like this: rheumatoid arthritis affects the cells that lubricate and line joints.  This tissue becomes inflamed and swollen, and the swollen tissues stretch the supporting structures of the joints, such as ligaments and tendons.  As the support structures stretch out, the joints become deformed and unstable.

I don’t think I have any pictures of my mom’s hands. Heck, I hardly have any pictures of my mom.  But if you look at the hundreds of photos in the interactive collage, you’ll see what arthritis hands look like, and that there’s whole online community where people with inflammatory arthritis can support each other. I wish my mom had known that.  In her own way, she was proud of her hands too.

Cheers 🙂

Advertisements

Yes, osteoarthritis can happen to you too!

Did you know that sports injuries can contribute to osteoarthritis, particularly when we don’t take the time to let them heal?  Referred to as secondary osteoarthritis, it creeps up in joints that have been damaged by a previous injury.  It’s common in professional athletes (such as hockey and football players), but it can happen in anyone.

Although it’s important to remember that exercise and activity is good for us, we do need to take care of ourselves.  This Arthritis Society video tells the stories of two ordinary people who learned through experience how osteoarthritis can develop from sports injuries that aren’t fully treated.  For all my hockey peeps out there, I’m talking to you too!  If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?

Cheers 🙂

Battle of the sexes

Welcome to the latest belated instalment of ’42 things you might not know about arthritis’! Did you know that women are more likely to suffer from arthritis than men? In Canada, an estimated 64% of those diagnosed with arthritis are women. And according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, most types of arthritis are more common in women. What’s even more interesting is that some research is suggesting that the course of rheumatoid arthritis is significantly worse in women than it is in men.

This article in the journal The Rheumatologist describes the state of play in a lot more detail, and ultimately concludes that the differences may not be as profound as some of the literature suggests.  But the biggest take away for me is that there do seem to be some differences, and this could have significant implications for treatment options. It is now understood that early treatment of RA is critical. If science is starting to find that some treatments are more likely to be successful for women versus men, that could make a huge difference for everyone who is trying to get their disease under control as early as possible. At worst, I can only jump to the conclusion that this merits more study.

Who knew?

Footwear on trial

These are the primary suspects in the unsolved mystery of the bump on my foot that has put a serious cramp in  my training – the story I’ve been promising to tell you for a few posts now.  I don’t know exactly when the bump showed up.  I just noticed it one day last year after a run, when I was being all sucky about my sore foot.

This bump is on the back of my right foot, beside the heel bone.  It’s sort of like a heel spur, but my doctor assures me it isn’t bone.  (Although it does sort of look like I have two heel bones, one beside the other.  Weird, I know.)  The bump itself doesn’t hurt, but it comes with symptoms like achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis.  But apparently it’s not quite those either.

I immediately blamed running.  It’s obvious, right?  Runners get these kinds of things.  That’s just how it is and we accept that.  So I did what many runners would do under the circumstances.  I ignored it.  Eventually, it got really annoying.  Then work got busy, and I started slacking on the mileage.  Like magic (or short-term memory loss) the pain went away and I forgot about the bump.  When I laced up my shoes again a few months later, I got all whiny about my sore foot again.  After looking critically at the bump, which seemed to have grown, I spent some quality time with an ice pack and a bottle of ibuprofen, and finally went to see my doctor.  After a lengthy reprieve from running and a few medical referrals later, I still don’t have an answer.  And I still can’t run for more than a couple of consecutive weeks without my foot screaming at me.

While waiting for a small army of medical people to sort this out, I consulted with my friend Google, and found some interesting info.  Any shoes with with a rigid back such as ice skates or dress shoes can cause this type of irritation.  Omigod!  I sometimes wear silly shoes at work.  And I play hockey twice a week.  In ice skates.  Eegads!  This opens up a whole new set of possibilities that I expect I won’t like.

Final results should be in soon, after I see the foot doctor again.  Until then, I am finding other ways to keep my fitness level up, so that I’ll be ready for the Lausanne marathon in October.  I’ll write more about those another day.  In the meantime, who do you think dunnit?  Vote in my first ever poll to tell me what you think!

Rock versus hard place

In my last post, I talked about different treatment options that can help to slow, or even stop, the damage caused by certain types of arthritis.  These therapies can make a huge difference in the lives of people with arthritis, but did you know that the side effects also pack a mean punch?  This is week five of ‘things you might not know about arthritis’.

One of the last medications that my mom tried was methotrexate, which is a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) that can be taken either as a pill or by injection.  Methotrexate is only taken once a week, and doctors recommend that it be taken on a “less demanding day” because some people feel unwell for up to 24-48 hours after taking it — such as headaches, feeling tired, nausea, or loss of appetite.  Additional effects are numerous, although rare, and include everything from increased sun sensitivity to hair loss to liver damage.

My mom didn’t talk to me very much about her medication, and to be honest, I rarely asked.  We lived 350 km apart, and so I didn’t see her day-to-day struggles first hand.  When we spoke, she wanted to talk about happier things.  We only started to talk about methotrexate after she started to experience a host of other health complications that landed her in the hospital for her 61st birthday.  Her problems were ultimately chalked up to an inappropriate combination of meds that threw her blood counts into complete disarray and caused her to feel terrible all the time, all of which happened after her doctor increased her dosage of methotrexate to help address the progression of her rheumatoid arthritis.  She eventually got things sorted out, but only after months of juggling pills and feeling awful — awful from the side effects of her meds, and awful from the pain and inflammation of RA while she waited for the meds to do their job.  Rock, meet hard place.

I know this doesn’t reflect everyone’s experience.  I also have no doubt that methotrexate would have helped my mom much more if it had been available earlier in her life.  Nevertheless, it speaks volumes to me that this treatment is one of the best options available, given what she had to go through to make it work.  It may well be effective, but at a cost.  And it isn’t as easy as just remembering to take a few pills.

I wish I had asked more questions and showed more compassion.  I wish she had told me more, so that I could have shaken off the assumptions I carried for many years just because they were never challenged.  But I understand better now, and I hope you do too.  Cheers.

Hurry up and wait!

I’m late! Indeed, I am overdue in delivering week four of ‘things you might not know’!  This won’t actually shock anyone who knows me.  I’m always late paying parking tickets, and it’s virtually guaranteed that I will never return a library book on time.  I’m also behind on my running program, but that’s a story for another day.  Alas, this week, you’ll get back-to-back posts to make up for my tardiness.

Sometimes, it really doesn’t pay to be late, particularly when it comes to being diagnosed with arthritis. I have mentioned here before, inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) needs to be treated early and aggressively.  But did you know that some of the most effective medications can take weeks or even months to show results, and multiple medications might be needed to control the disease?  Here’s a great analogy from an Arthritis Society publication:

“Think of arthritis like a fire in the joints.  Imagine there was a fire in your kitchen. If you left it burning, it would eventually destroy the kitchen and likely spread to other rooms in the house. The same is true for rheumatoid arthritis. If you leave the fire of arthritis burning, it will eventually damage the bones and cartilage. The idea is to get the fire put out as quickly as possible to prevent the joints from becoming damaged. Again, if your kitchen was on fire, it might take two or three fire trucks with their hoses to put the fire out. The same is true for arthritis. It might take two or three different medications to put the fire out.”

There are many promising treatments available that can slow, or sometimes even stop, the progression of the disease.  Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are a class of medications used to treat inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. DMARDs slow down the biologic processes that cause the persistent inflammation (pain, swelling and stiffness) in the joints. DMARDs are important because they help to prevent damage to the joint.  (Unfortunately, DMARDs cannot fix joint damage that has already occurred.)  The challenge is, DMARDs generally work well but they take time to work. Most DMARDs will start to work in about six to 12 weeks, but some may take longer – up to three or four months.

Likewise, biologics are a class of medications specially designed to treat inflammatory types of arthritis.  Like DMARDs, biologics are used to suppress inflammation and help prevent damage to the joint, and the two can be combined.  But biologics also take time to work. Some people may notice the effects of the medication  within days or weeks, but others may take three to six months to feel the effects.

Six months is a long time to wait if your house is on fire.  That’s why early diagnosis and treatment is so important.  It’s also why continued research into arthritis treatment is necessary, hopefully to develop new treatment options that will work faster, to help minimize the amount of permanent damage that people suffer.

Thanks for reading.  Stay tuned for the next instalment.  I won’t make you wait so long this time 🙂