Monday, 17 March 2014

When viruses attack

For normal, healthy people, a virus is usually a short term illness. You feel terrible for a few days, and perhaps take a week to recover.

For people with other health 'complications', viruses can stick around and make a difficult situation much harder to deal with.

It's frustrating to hear comments and advice such as "You'll feel better in a day or two", or "Just take this tablet and it will let you go on".

Chronic illness sufferers know that these viruses can linger, can develop into worse illnesses, don't respond to 'normal' levels of medication. And viruses always make chronic illness symptoms much worse.

Laid flat

I recently got an unidentified virus. Fever, malaise, exhaustion, brain fog, headaches and body pain. Seemed like the flu, only without the dripping nose and dreadful cough. It threatened a few times to drop onto my chest and morph to bronchitis.

Eventually, it settled into severe sinusitis - just the inflammation, no infection. But, the headaches, oy!

It knocked me out for two weeks while it was trying to make up its mind what type of virus it was. I was going from bed to couch, and back again, sleeping 15+ hours.

I probably should have taken more time off work as the virus made my fibromyalgia and endometriosis symptoms flare. But two weeks was what the doctor recommended.

One week back at work, still with fever, headaches and dizziness, and I've picked up a tummy bug to  knock me down once again.

How do you cope with the extra illnesses?

What do you do when you get a virus or other illness? Take time off and rest, or battle through?

Monday, 13 January 2014

How to quickly manage a costochondritis flare

If you have had costochondritis in the past, it's easier for it to return. Especially if you have fibromyalgia because costochondritis pain is a common 'symptom'.

The following tips can help you take the edge off the costo spikes when it flares, and help you heal faster and get back to your normal routine.

NSAIDs like ibuprofen or Voltaren gel can help reduce inflammation, and help you to get a handle on the pain quicker than toughing it out.

Get help. Ask for help to open doors, lift things, open jars and bottles, clean a house and shop. Movements that intensely use the chest muscles make the inflammation and pain worse. Avoiding aggravation by asking for help with these movements will let you recover quicker, even though you may feel silly asking! 

Relieve the chest pain. Hot or cold packs, gentle stretching, warm baths, and gentle movement relaxes the tight muscles, reduces pain, and ensures good blood flow to the affected areas.

Follow these stretches and exercises to open your chest, relax the muscles, and reduce pain.

Relax and de-stress. Hard to do when in pain, but very effective in reducing pain. Take some time to meditate or run through progressive relaxation exercises. Slow and deep breathing into your belly will also relax the muscles, encourage blood flow and healing. Take a bath, or lie down with a heat or cold pack on your chest, and relax.

Longer term costochondritis?

For those who have costochondritis longer term or as a symptom of another underlying illness (like me), lifestyle changes and more regular stretching and exercises are necessary to prevent bad costo flares. 

Stress reduction, posture correction while standing or sitting, avoiding heavy doors, lifting correctly, limiting heavy lifting, using aids for opening tight jars, using a backpack instead of a shoulder back, regular stretching and gentle exercise, a good mattress and healthy sleeping routine, are all extremely important in preventing a flare.

Being overweight can make costochondritis worse, especially if you are a woman. But you need to be careful of what exercises you do so as to not strain the chest muscles further. Push ups? Ouch! 

Monday, 6 January 2014

So what is costochondritis?

One of the more popular topics here is costochondritis, a tough and very painful illness to deal with. I've struggled with it on an off for over 25 years as a symptom of fibromyalgia.

Note: I am not a doctor. See your doctor immediately if you have any chest pain to rule out more serious illnesses!

Costochondritis is the inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage and the surrounding soft tissue (tendons, muscles). It is very painful, often causing panic when acute pain occurs on the left side of the chest, mimicking a heart attack.

Most occurrences of costochondritis occur with physical damage or a viral infection in the lungs.

Usually costochondritis will go away with rest, movement modification and physical therapy after a couple of months.

What causes it?

Moon at sunsetThe exact causes for costochondritis are unknown.

Physical trauma such as a car accident, bad posture when lifting heavy loads, continual physical work, or viral chest infections are all thought to be causes of acute costochondritis.

Fibromyalgia sufferers often develop chronic costochondritis.

Chronic costochondritis is very difficult to diagnose, with doctors often resorting to prescribing anti-depression medication, not believing the patient's continual reports of pain.

Knife-like pain can be felt in the sternum, the sides of the ribs or coming through to the front of the chest from near the spine. You may also feel like you have a constant band of pressure around your rib cage.

These areas are usually extremely tender and sometimes swollen when physically examined.

Twisting movements with the torso, or even breathing deeply can cause acute pain to 'spike' in the chest area.

Diagnosing costochondritis

Costochondritis is difficult to detect. Many doctors seem to be completely unaware of this disease, and are required to rule out a number of other problems before diagnosing costochondritis. This results in a large number of visits to doctors, specialists and a number of potentially very expensive tests being performed.

A chest xray, MRI or bone scan may show inflammation of the cartilage in the ribcage or surrounding tissue. Inflammation may be visible or palpable as swollen areas around the chest, typically at the sternum. A blood test may show the presence of inflammation somewhere in the body.

How is it treated?

Typical treatments for costochondritis include applying ice or heat, rest (but not necessarily bed-rest), using anti-inflammatory medications, anti-viral or anti-bacterial medication for underlying conditions, cortisone injections into the inflammed cartilage and in extreme cases, surgical removal of nerves or other such invasive procedures.

The most effective treatment for the majority of people is anti-inflammatory medication, however, as concern grows about this group of medication, alternatives are being sought for longer-term treatments.

Anti-depressants, sleeping medication or muscle relaxants may be prescribed to help you sleep at night, and deal with the ongoing pain.

Some sufferers have had relief from acupuncture, physical therapy, massage, or herbal anti-inflammatory medication and diet changes. Although, only massage and physical therapy have worked for me.

Costochondritis can re-occur, especially if care is not taken to slowly return to normal activities over several months after the pain and inflammation subsides.

Costo is yet another illness where treatments really depend on each individual. What may work for some, may not work for you.

Natural treatments for costochondritis, lifestyle modification to reduce stress, stretches to relieve chest pain, and changed working environments or hours of work help many chronic costochondritis and fibromyalgia sufferers.

Try a range of therapies, stretching and exercise regimes to find out what works best both to get past your costochondritis flare, and to prevent it from returning.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Healthier habits - focus for 2014

It's been a tough year, health-wise.

With the endometriosis resurfacing and invading my bowel and the adenomyosis continuing to grow, I've been on the merry-go-round of tests, specialist visits, and different medications. I shudder to think how much time has been spent in waiting rooms!

An increase in teaching workload has also taken it's toll. Saying 'yes' to a temporary evening class for a few months meant a lot more stress and fibro flaring, especially when my teaching days start at 8am.

So, instead of focusing on health in the last few years, I've been focusing on work. And it's showing clearly.

Inflammation flares - sciatic, costo, neuromas, sinus and (in that ordeer), leading to headaches, extreme muscle pain and insomnia. A very hard-to-write affadavit for a family court case threw up lots of rotten memories of my father, triggering the background PTSD and depression, which has yet to subside. Plus substantial weight gain has made all the phyiscal and psychological symptoms worse.

I recently over-drew my spoon (energy) bank, doing far too much in the last couple of months, and right now I'm paying for it.

In 2014, I plan to dial back my work committments a little, focusing on the new business courses first, as they are by far the most challenging.

I'm now in a gorgeous new apartment (yet to be completely finished), which doesn't shake. So I can move on from Fukushima. It also thankfully has less traffic noise. And I'm looking forward to designing a productive food garden on the terrific roof terrace.

The court case has been settled, albeit with a lot more mess than there should have been. So, with some cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, I should start to make headway in knocking the PTSD/depression back down.

By focusing on small healthy habits, I hope to regain some of the health I have lost in the past few years of too-much-work-and-stress.

Some healthy habits I plan to implement this year, focusing on just one at a time for 30 days: stretching daily, walking daily, growing own salad vegetables and herbs, free writing, tai chi practice, meditation, and a few others.

Please do follow me on, or shoot me an email (nifwlseirff at gmail dot com) if you'd like to join me in 2014. 

The Lifetick goal planning site looks nifty, but is currently very lonely (and therefore I haven't used it much). If you would like to buddy up with me on there, just send me an email.

Here's looking forward to a healthier, happier and lower pain 2014!

Friday, 6 December 2013

A holding pattern

Another birthday has passed, and not much has happened on the endometriosis/adenomyosis front.

I will be staying on the combination of Visanne and Mirena for as long as I can hold out against the pain and secondary symptoms.

The ultimate solution is to remove both the uterus and ovaries, as both are contributing to the growth of both the endo and adeno.

Removing just the uterus, won't stop the growth of the endo in my pelvis and inside the bowl, and won't get rid of the cysts in the ovaries which periodically and painfully burst.

Specialists here have outright refused to take out the ovaries on the grounds that I'm still far too young to go into a permanent menopause, even with 10 years of hormone replacement therapy. The earliest they will consider it, is when I turn 45.

I do need to monitor the bowel symptoms. If they seem to become blocked from scar tissue, or have stronger/more regular bleeding from the endometriosis growths inside, then it's been recommended that I have a bowel resection and hysterectomy (leaving the ovaries in). But as this is quite a big op, with short and long-term risks, my pain levels (or blockage levels) need to be bad enough.

So I have to hold out as long as I can.

Although, my current Mirena is now 'out of date' (the hormone levels released into the uterus are lower than when the coil is new), my gynecologist here has asked to simply leave it in, while the Visanne seems to have shut down normal period bleeding. No point upsetting the balance when it is currently 'working'.

Apparently, the pharmaceutical industry put a 'use-by' date on the Mirena, not for health risks, but to make more money - it's extremely expensive to buy it and to insert/change it every 4-5 years.

I find it sad that there is so much emphasis on capitalism in the health and medical industry.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Goodbye Lupron

My last month of Lupron is over and done with. And I'm not sorry to see it go.

I won't miss the intense and constant headaches. The cravings. The weight gain. The hot flushes in hot weather. The moodiness.

As it hasn't helped the bleeding from the endometriosis in my bowel, I stopped the injections at 3 months, instead of doing the full 6 month course.

Purple flower, just about to bloomNo point going through head-splitting hell when it wasn't doing what we wanted it to do!

So, back on the combination of Visanne and Mirena. It should stop all period bleeding, except for the monthly bleed from the bowel endometriosis like before.

But happily, without the terrible side effects of Lupron!

My current Mirena is nearly out of date, so it will be replaced at the end of this year. Most likely the hormones that it releases have been too low a level for about a year (as happened with my previous one), which would contribute to the more rapid growth of adenomyosis, and regrowth of the endo.

But the doctors stick rigidly to the rules here - it has a recommended lifespan of 5 years, so they will replace it after 5 years and not earlier.

I've convinced them to put me under for a short time while they remove the old and insert the new. They wanted to do this without any pain killers, let alone a short general anesthetic.

I did that once, and nearly passed out from the pain. I have never felt anything that bad in my life!

The re-start of the Visanne has been a bit rough, although I can't point to the causes of the strange symptoms.

Dizziness, almost fainting, occasional headache, and complete lack of hunger. Could be stress, exhaustion (moving house), hormonal re-balancing, a virus (my immune system is shot) ... any number of things!

After I've moved, the cats are resettled, I have a trip back to Australia.  I'll be glad when the busy-ness of the last and next few months is over, and things are back to 'normal'.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Frustration and pain

I'm well aware of how emotions can affect pain levels.

The more stress and tension you hold in your body, the more difficult pain management is.

Work stress is common - most people know that tension in the neck, upper back and arms from loads of computer work can cause the worst headaches.

Less obvious, general frustration at a situation causes an imperceptible build up of tension throughout the body. Which results in a slow but steady increase in pain levels.

A growing disaster for a fibromyalgia sufferer.

I'm in the middle of moving house and planning an overseas trip (September).

But, the place I'm moving into is still being repaired.

It was three months before a viewing appointment was made (due to repair work), then one week until I got the keys after signing the contract.  Just over a week after handover, and still the floor and the terrace have not been finished. I can't even clean or paint, because sanding the floorboards will make so much dust.

The kitchen cupboards/worktop/appliances will likely take 4-8 weeks (when I'm overseas).  

It feels also very uncomfortable for the workmen to have the keys, and be able to come and go as they please.

My current place is listed as available from early September. I don't know if the new place will be finished by then, at this rate.

Plus, the cats aren't dealing well with the heat. Cookie is ill, and Johnny is about to be shaved under anesthetic. Poor things.

Thus, I'm frustrated and worried, tension is mounting, and the fibromyalgia symptoms are worsening, adding to the effects of the summer heat.

All up, a definite ouch.

I'm afraid, the people around me are suffering through my grumpy, painful mood. I'm trying to mitigate it by exploring Skyrim and preparing handouts for my classes. But I'm not doing very well.

How do you reduce such frustration, tension and manage pain?

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Moving house (again)

You'd think I'd simply stop moving houses someday! But this is my 20th move in fewer than 20 years.

An average of one move per year. Too often - especially when you consider that these were all done when in pain or ill.

Culling all my clutter was difficult when I moved overseas. The boxes were pretty though - all covered in stamps!

Still, here I am, packing everything, finding too much new clutter, and trying to keep piles stable enough for the cats to jump on them (as they are wont to do).

It's rather rushed this time. Yet somehow I need to plan a new kitchen - appliances, cupboards, the big things. I've picked the appliance models, and am waiting on the key before I plan the layout and cupboards - measurements are important!

The things I'm most dreading are the stairs. Six flights down (scary enough), and a spiral metal see-through one back up (even scarier). I have a phobia of stairs you see.

I was once trapped under a trampling herd of students - I tripped as we all rushed to our lockers at lunchtime. Stairs that I can see through have been a problem since then.

But worse was, a decade or so later, falling down a tall flight carrying a couple of full washing baskets, in the middle of the night, alone, head first. I'm surprised my neighbor didn't come to see what the screaming was about.

A nasty head bump, a collection of mega-impressive bruises, and mostly ripped ankle ligaments sealed my fear of stairs forever more.

The packing and unpacking - no problems! I can breeze through that in no time, as long as I don't have too much normal teaching work to do.

The physical moving from one place to the other... less easy. The stairs - petrifying!

Still I've done it often enough, and have enough tips and tricks for moving while in pain, that I know I'll get through this one too.

How do you manage your pain when moving?  I'd love to learn your tips!