Harsh reality

Until recently, I’d managed to persuade myself that treating rheumatoid arthritis naturally was working for me. It was, but only up to a point (i.e. it lowered the inflammatory makers in my blood). The reality is that I have bone erosion in my joints which is irreversible, along with extreme fatigue and chronic pain in my hands, hips and knees. Diet and an alternative approach aren’t enough to stop this disease in its tracks.

So, a couple of days ago I made a decision. I resolved to speak to my rheumatologist and start a new treatment that we talked about at the ultrasound clinic several weeks ago, Sulfasalazine. Serious stuff as it’s a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD). I went in yesterday (unannounced) and by chance she had a free slot as someone had cancelled.

Within a few minutes, she was examining me, arranging a steroid injection and giving me a prescription for Sulfasalazine. After a routine blood test, I found myself in the infusion clinic where I took the first pill in front of a senior nurse. (This is because I’ve had three allergic reactions to drugs in the past 10 months). Despite feeling panicky (no doubt anticipating a side effect due to past experience), all my observations were normal (heart rate, blood pressure, lung capacity). Over an hour later I finally left, feeling relieved that I’d managed to start a new treatment. Who knows what lies ahead, but at least I’m taking control of this disease and refusing to let it control me.

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Good and bad news

Today my rheumatologist did an ultrasound scan on my hands to assess the level of inflammation. I haven’t been on any medication since January (for reasons described in other posts on this blog). The good news was that I seemed to have less inflammation in my hands than since the last scan months ago (I think it was October 2012). The bad news is I now have some erosions of the bone in both hands, which is scary. But as I don’t want to go on any new medication until my neurological symptoms improve, she has referred me to have hand therapy. This means I’ll be treated the old-fashioned way for arthritis (before medication) – using things like splints and doing hand exercises.

Although it’s depressing to learn about the erosions in my hands, I was over the moon to find out that my Vitamin D levels are now normal (62) – previously they were 38. I’m going to keep taking 1,000 international units a day as I have borderline osteoporosis in my hips and thighs, as recommended by an osteoporosis expert at the hospital.

Another option I didn’t know existed until recently is to ask for a referral to a rheumatologist who specialises in Homeopathy. I’m definitely going to do this as conventional drugs haven’t worked for me so far. I know they work for lots of people, which is great, but having had three allergic reactions to different drugs since last September, I’d like to try a new approach before I even consider going back to conventional medication.

Salty solution

Last September (2012), an article on the front page of the Daily Express caught my eye. It’s not normally a paper that I’d read, but I couldn’t escape the headline screaming at me in the newsagent: ‘Salt baths ease the pain of arthritis, say experts’. Here’s the original article: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/347308/Salt-baths-ease-the-pain-of-arthritis-say-experts

Research from Manchester University showed that high-salt solutions reduced inflammation. However, the study was conducted on mice so it would be interesting to see the results of clinical research using humans. I’d be happy to volunteer as it’s only using salt!

It took me a few months to actually try out the salt bath approach. It took time to recover from a bad reaction to hydroxychloroquine sulphate (hallucinations and bronchospasms) first, then to learn to deal with the migraines and permanent numbness I developed after starting injectable Methotrexate.

So, in January I started bathing my hands individually in hot saline water for 10 minutes per hand. I have been doing this every evening since. I use a standard mixing bowl that you’d use in cooking and line the base with table salt, quite liberally. I boil the water and fill the bowl about half-way. Then I top up the water with cold tap water, dipping one finger in to check the water’s hot but no longer boiling. Next, I simply plunge one hand in to the salty water (I do this sitting at a table as it’s easier than sitting on the sofa and less messy) and leave it submerged (up to the wrist) for 10 minutes. I repeat this process with the other hand.

I have found that doing this ritual every evening has made a big difference to the flexibility of my wrists and has helped to ease the arthritic pain in both hands. On the days when I haven’t been able to do this (i.e during a short 3 day holiday in Italy), I really noticed the stiffness returning. One downside is that it makes your hands really dry. Body Shop body butter has been a great discovery and has helped soften the skin. The dryness feels like a small price to pay for the continuous improvement in my hands.