Thursday, June 25, 2009

Psoriatic Arthritis, Menstruation, and Remicade

My periods are funky. I'm just to go ahead and say it "outloud", after months of avoiding the topic for fear of grossing y'all out (yes, I'm talking about you, dear squeamish reader - you know who you are!)

But it can't be avoided now. The story of my "little visitor" has become too compelling, personally and scientifically, to make light of. So here goes:

For about three and a half years (from just before the time I developed psoriatic arthritis), I've had very heavy, and LONG, menstrual bleeding. My visitor was a terrible guest. Stayed too long (two weeks or more) and didn't clean up after herself.

Then came Remicade. I started Remicade (Infliximab) about 6 weeks ago, and missed my period a week later. Please note: I never miss a period (except when pregnant). Of course I ran off to RiteAid for a pregnancy test, which came back negative. So I waited.

About 4 weeks after my first Remicade treatment, I had a visit, finally, and she was an easier houseguest than I've had in years. Not heavy, not long, just...normal. She practically did the dishes for me.

Now, here's the kicker. The bleeding started again, 4 days ago, right when the second Remicade dose wore off and I started feeling the arthritic aches and fatigue again. This was just two weeks after my last, very late, period. Is it coincidence that Remicade delayed and then "normalized" my period, and the absence of Remicade made me bleed? I think not.

So, as always, I'm turning to the research journals. First, I must give credit to the KickAS website and support group, which had a bunch of useful information in this thread.

It turns out that TNF-alpha has been linked to endometriosis, and is probably involved in the development of ovarian follicles. A fascinating 2004 review article by Sakumoto and Okuda (Journal of Reproduction and Development) states (italic mine):
3. Although the physiological significance of TNF-alpha regulating CL (corpus luteum) function during gestation is still obscure, TNF-alpha may play physiological roles in regulating CL function in the gestation period as well as in the estrous cycle.
Good golly I wish I was a research scientist and understood all of this better. But what I'm getting is: the corpus luteum is a little blister-like object that is formed when the ovary pops out an egg halfway through the menstrual cycle (here's a good diagram about the cycle). It produces hormones that support a potential pregnancy, and it decays towards the end of the cycle if the egg isn't fertilized. What these researchers believe is that the CL formation, and perhaps the entire estrous cycle, are partially regulated by TNF-alpha.

And of course, as we all know, TNF-Alpha is what the Remicade blocks. It's a lead factor in inflammatory arthritis, as well as other autoimmune diseases.

So by my reckoning, for the last three years my little visitor has arrived at the end of my menstrual cycle... she arrives early and dances in the front yard lightly for about a week, but then moves in and trashes the house at about the time I would normally be expecting guests. But possibly, the Remicade has shortened her stay.

(Translated, I think I bleed lightly for the last week of my cycle, when the CL is disintegrating, and then I bleed heavily when my period should start. But with remicade, somehow the TNF-alpha blocking is shortening dear Aunt Flo's visit).

I don't know what to think here, except to feel grateful for a better understanding of why I've had these nasty periods for so long. I don't really know why TNF-alpha affects me in so many ways, but at least I can blame it for my heavy bleeding. And I now have a new topic for reading and speculation about autoimmune illness. Just think...some researchers now think some endometriosis is caused by flaws in the immune system!

I'm also quite curious as to what Remicade has in store for me and my bad house guest - maybe I can close up the B&B for a while.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

N=1 - Remicade hangover

Permission to speak freely?

I feel like $h!t. Excuse my French.

A week and a half ago I was running... chasing my wonderful 6-year-old son through the Redwoods in our favorite park. My daughter and I were having dance parties. Working in my garden was easy and irresistible.

And as of 48 hours ago, I can't move. I'm not scurrying. I'm back to creeping down the stairs. Every joint hurts, my hands are back to feeling like flippers, and worst of all, I have new finger joints involved.

I'm back to square 1. Maybe even square 0.

I'm assuming this is the Remicade wearing off. It sure feels like a hangover.

When you have a chronic illness, there is an interesting psychological tendency to believe you do not have that illness during symptom free periods. I frequently get trapped in that delusion. "Maybe I'm really better this time" I've recently been thinking, as I run and play and plant. "Maybe I don't need all these medications... maybe I just need love and seedlings".

My next Remicade infusion, which is Thursday, will be the true test. I hope it makes me feel better. But if it does, it will once again prove that I, indeed, have a chronic illness. I wish I didn't need these constant reminders. But needing to be reminded means I am feeling better. It's a terrible vicious circle...

Bring on the mousie.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Out of the office, but still reading the research links

On my way to another lovely visit with friends - I'm in the Bay Area visiting the pals and family we left when we moved to Portland last year.

Thus, once again, I'm ignoring you, my adored blog.

But I saw this article today and it caught my eye, and I thought I should share it - a new PsA drug that's doing well in clinical trials. Here's a description about why it's different:
Apremilast is a novel, orally available small molecule compound that exhibits anti-inflammatory activities through the suppression of multiple pro-inflammatory mediators including, TNF-alpha, interleukins 6, 17 & 23, and interferon-gamma among others.
Off to more good times - but I'll be back in Portland and posting regularly soon.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Health Care in America, Part II

LILI SACKS, a primary care doctor in Seattle, says she began thinking differently about her work on the day she realized she was beginning each appointment with the words, “Sorry I’m late.”
The above is a quote from a recent article in the New York Times on health care... it is a perfect follow up to the New Yorker article I talked about a few weeks ago. Here's what follows that quote:

Scheduled to see as many as 25 patients a day at a large clinic, she lacked the time for thorough examinations and discussions. Because of this, she said, primary care doctors are often forced to order tests and send patients to specialists.

“Could I have helped some people without specialists and tests? Absolutely,” said Dr. Sacks. “Would it have saved the patient and the insurance company both money? Absolutely. Is the system set up for the best care and cost efficiency? Absolutely not.”

Dr. Sacks said she worried that seeing so many patients would lead to errors.
Much of this article talks about the "direct practice" model of medicine, which for many physicians translates to: each patient pays them a monthly fee, but then gets to see the doc for no cost, including many tests, pretty much as soon as and as often as needed. Dr. Sacks, in this article, switches her practice to a direct-practice model, and speaks very highly of it in the article.

Last year, she moved to a clinic that focuses on longer patient appointments, 30 to 60 minutes. This translates to 10 to 12 patients a day. Patients also communicate directly with her by phone or e-mail.

During those longer appointments, Dr. Sacks can perform basic lab tests and simple procedures, so patients see fewer specialists.
I've been skeptical of this kind of service - worried about an even further separation between the wealthy and the poor in the type of health care they receive. But here's an argument from this article that I think makes a great deal of sense (italics mine):
Dr. Sacks said the financial mechanics of the direct-practice model match her medical goals. When she was compensated based on insurance, she was paid every time she saw a patient. Now, if she can use education and prevention to reduce office visits, she and her patients benefit, she said.
One thing (among many) required to make this model work would be a welcoming atmosphere... a "we want to see you" kind of attitude... at the doctor's office. Preventative care requires a doctor be able to see patients before diseases strike or progress too far. However, I can imagine if I was paying $100 a month for health care out of pocket, on top of insurance, I'd want to feel free to walk into my doc's office anytime I darn well felt like it.

Is anyone using this model? Do you like it?

I'm all about reducing the cost of health care. Imagine if it came with better care too!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Chinese herb may treat psoriasis?

Sorry for the blog silence lately - those of you with kids may understand the end of the school year mania I'm currently living.

But, I did want to throw this out there - an interesting article stating that an herb from the root of the hydrangea plant, which has been used for 2000 years in Chinese medicine, may help treat psoriasis, and RA, and Crohn's, etc.

Here's the link

I may have to go back to my acupuncturist and learn more.