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.