My two best friends – Meth and Acid

Methotrexate. The very mention of this drug makes me feel nauseous. For me, it is not so much the taste of it, but rather knowledge of what it can do to your body that causes me to become so apprehensive towards this medication. Perhaps it is my body’s way of telling me that this medication shouldn’t be ingested in the first place. Of course, I would rather not be taking this medication in the first place if it were not due to my set of unfortunate circumstances.

Alas, it is this medication that has helped control my inflammatory factors  (through varying degrees of sucess) these last few years. When a flare up happens it happens – even when you are taking your prescribed medication religiously. Methotrexate is one of those drugs in modern medicine that can be a bit of a double edged sword. It is well known for it’s use in chemotherapy in combating cancer cells, and yet it finds itself in the use of treating rheumatoid arthritis albeit at a different dose. Take this too often or at a high enough dose and you may find yourself in hospital….if you are lucky. My lecturers at university has never ceased to impress upon undergraduates the dosing regimen for methotrexate is usually ONCE A WEEK followed by its partner in crime, folic acid 24-48 hours later. Very rarely if ever is methotrexate taken on a daily basis.

One of it’s side effects (and I suppose it’s intended effect in some cases) is it’s ability to suppress your body’s immune system. That is to say it makes your immune system a little less active. Great for preventing flare ups and slowing the disease progression, but absolutely rubbish throughout the winter months as you struggle to not catch a cold! Needless to say, I have a love-hate relationship with methotrexate. And don’t even get me started on the mouth ulcers that come with taking this medication!! Not being able to enjoy eating the bountiful food of this earth is enough to send one into a blinding rage of frustration!

Because of methotrexate’s ability to suppress your immune system patient’s like me have to undergo a blood test every 4 weeks to monitor our blood levels. It can be scary and annoying for some people who don’t like getting stabbed with a needle on a regular basis. Not only that but to watch yourself bleed to fill the necessary vials that are to be sent off to the labs to be analysed. Taking methotrexate is a pain. There is no way to avoid the blood tests as they are necessary to monitor not only rheumatoid factors but also signs of methotrexate doing it’s job too well.

So how do I cope with all this?

The simple answer: stay healthy. Be that through diet, exercise, and not doing silly things that would put your health at risk. Seriously doing this will solve the vast majority of life’s health problems (You can thank me later).

The answers that you were probably looking for:

Disclaimer: Please double check with your doctor or pharmacist over the suitability of some of the recommendations that are mentioned in this blog. Everybody’s circumstances are different and what may work for one person may not necessarily be the best option for another.

For the blood tests I can’t avoid. Though saying that, I had unintentionally missed my last blood test appointment. It is important to stay on top of your blood levels so that your doctor can adjust your treatment accordingly should something flag up. Just have to be brave, and bleed for the sake of your life.

For the mouth ulcers, Bonjela is your best friend. Or alternatively you can use something like Orajel. They both do the same job. Both acts to numb the ulcer so that you can carry on with day to day activities with little pain and interruptions. The downside to this is that you may find multiple applications of this product is required throughout the day.

Some people have complained of diarrhoea whilst on methotrexate too. I have experienced this during the early days of my treatment, but now it would appear my body has adapted around that and is no longer an issue. If you aren’t one for waiting then I would suggest taking something like Immodium as a short term measure. This is a typical anti-diarrhoeal medication that you can buy over the counter and it essentially slows the passage of food through your bowels.

One of the doctors at my doctor surgery had suggested that from time to time I may take an extra tablet of folic acid to help reduce the side effects. I have yet to take her up on this advice as my side effects have not been so bad that warranted such action.

To be honest, the vast majority of side effects from methotrexate are bearable. The few times where you would be concerned is when the results from your blood tests are abnormal.

I am fortunate enough that I am only on two medication to manage my rheumatoid arthritis currently. I know patients that are taking a few extra and also at higher doses. Which goes back to the short answer I gave earlier: STAY HEALTHY!!

Reboot, reset, rheumatoid arthritis

Well…It’s been 3 years.

3 years since I started this blog, 3 years since diagnosis, and 3 years of inactivity on this site as though I had disappeared off the face of the earth. Let me first offer an apology at the very least to myself for not continuing at the very least a journal of my rheumatic life. I had intended to write so much more as a means to track my flare ups and I guess as a way to document my life to look back on sometime in the future.

So why have I returned to journal about this now? After the long absence what is the point? Honestly…I don’t 100% know. Perhaps I am at another low point in my life like I was 3 years ago at diagnosis and needed a platform to express myself? However, this time round, with (hopefully) greater maturity I want to take this seriously. I have learnt a lot in the last 3 years about living with rheumatoid arthritis. Heck, I have been living with it unknowingly for the majority of my childhood. I want to share with people the ways I live around it, ways that I believe have reduced the frequency of flare ups, and ways to improve my quality of life with it. Me and rheumatoid arthritis; we’re practically old (annoying) friends.

By way of an update, I am currently at the tail end of a flare up in my right hand. It first started on Saturday. You can tell when it is starting. It slowly creeps up on you like a dull ache in your joints that you brush off initially as stiff muscles, but when it doesn’t get better through out the day nor the next day alarm bells starts ringing. The gradual crescendo to a flare up is one of the saving graces of my experience with rheumatoid arthritis. It at least lets me prepare ahead for the week whilst the pain is bearable and the strength has not left my hand completely. Typically, my flare ups have lasted a week before I regain full use of my hands again. As mentioned in my last post, flare ups can be devastatingly crippling. I’ve had times where I lacked the strength to even brush my teeth!

My plan with this is to upate once a fortnight. I will cover things like:

  • Medication
  • Flare ups (if any), and how to cope with it.
  • Excercises
  • My past experiences
  • Things I found difficult or unchanged
  • Work
  • Travel
  • Planning for your future
  • And more stuff as soons as I think of topics.

For now, I will be cleaning up and updating the website. I hope this will help somebody somewhere at some point in their life. I welcome you to stay and read some of my older posts. Having re-read them myself, I didn’t realise how raw I came across with my feelings upon being diagnosed. Besides correcting for grammar and spelling I have left them as they had been 3 years ago.

Stay strong.

~OnlyRen

09/08/2014 Killing arthritis with needles

I just came back from helping out for a week at a youth Christian camp. Fortunately, my arthritis had recovered in time for me to be constructively functional. I feel really blessed to be able to still carry on a normal life. One of the things that I was reminded of at the Christian camp was that time is our most precious commodity. There is nothing we can do to increase the number of days we are allocated, but we have no idea how many days we truly have. It is scary to think that despite knowing this we seldom act in such a way to make the best use of our time. I really urge people to stop and introspect on the things that really matter in their lives and make their own adjustments for a better life, and a better cause. Anyway, I digress….

Today, I had taken the first step to seek complimentary treatment. Despite seeing the doctors and the rheumatology specialist, I had not started to take the prescribed medicines. In fact I hadn’t been able to pick up my prescription due to being away from town to serve at the youth camp mentioned above. So before the doctors open again on Monday, mum had managed to book me in to see a traditional Chinese doctor today. I set aside my skepticism and gave it a go. It comprised of a brief chat so the doctor can gauge what the extent of my ailment and approximately 10 minutes of having needles stabbed into me. I kind of wished she had informed me that she was going to stab me with needles (I don’t handle being left in the dark too well). My advice for the people out there that intend to try out acupuncture is to stay still – very still!!! My mistake was to move my fingers to try and scratch an itch but totally forgot that I had needles stuck at certain points that make it very painful to move. Just stay still!!!

After the acupuncture, was this process of pinching/massaging certain other points in your body known as pressure points. This forms the basis of what is known as acupressure. That too was painful. The doctor grabbed my hand and squeezed it very tightly and twisted it in all directions. It hurts! On the plus side, it loosened up the joint and I could actually feel blood flowing back into my hands. She explained to me that my carpel tunnel was blocked/narrow which was restricting my blood circulation the rest of my hand. I noticed colour returning to my hand after the ordeal – a comforting sign. Though this didn’t restore full flexibility of my joint. I wasn’t expecting it, but the return of strength to my hand was a welcomed start! She didn’t prescribe me any herbal remedies but advised me to do self acupressure on my stomach daily for 5-10 minutes as a form of self care/preservation. Her explanation for my condition is that apparently there is too much acid in my blood and that is what is causing the inflammation. The most logical place that the body produces acid is in the stomach, hence the acupressure targeted at the stomach. Further advice on diet and general healthy living was given which are stuff that most people are generally aware of, but seldom act upon it. I really do need to take my own health more seriously.

I’ve been given a week to see how things go. If my joints are still stiff after a week, then I would need to go back. Otherwise, I am supposedly treated and the rest is self management. I must say that this was an interesting experience. I can’t say for certain whether this had worked, but I do feel better than I was. I shall see in a week’s time and hopefully no further treatment will be required. I would be interested to see a x-ray of my wrists now after all that twisting and squeezing. I am currently waiting for the health centre to book me an appointment at the hospital. Until then, I am wondering if I should start the methotrexate and folic acid treatment. I really wish I could avoid taking it if possible. Every medicine that cures is a poison for another.