Seeking treatment for chronic illness: when desperation takes over

Allyson Byers was desperate to find a treatment that worked for her painful chronic skin condition.

I recently read an article by Self magazine about a young woman named Allyson Byers who suffers from a chronic skin condition called Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). According to the Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation, HS causes painful abscesses and boils to form in the folds of the skin, often around hair follicles, such as the underarms and groin. While the exact cause of HS in unknown, it is believed to be autoimmune in nature.

Although the condition isn’t actually rare, with about 1-4% of the general population affected, HS is often misdiagnosed as other conditions, like cystic acne. Patients also frequently don’t tell their physicians about their symptoms due to embarrassment, until they’ve reached stage 3 of the disease (at which point, surgery may be required).

Allyson was fortunate to have been diagnosed six months after the onset of the disease, as a result of a knowledgeable family physician who recognized the tell-tale symptoms. She then went on to see a dermatologist, who prescribed a variety of treatments, from antibiotics, to diabetes medication, hormone-suppressing drugs and even immunosuppressants. But nothing seemed to quell the prognosis of the disease, and eventually, Allyson found herself in so much pain, she couldn’t even raise her arms or even walk, due to the abscesses in her underarms and groin. It even affected her sleep.

Needless to say, she was desperate for a cure- or at least a treatment. Allyson said that in her desperation, she turned to alternative medicine to help. She tried everything from special diets, like the autoimmune protocol (AIP), to supplements and topical solutions (like turmeric, tea tree oil and special soaps). She even saw a chiropractor for a controversial diagnostic test called applied kinesiology, which involves exposing oneself to potential allergens and measuring changes in muscle strength. She spent thousands of dollars on unproven ‘treatments’ in her quest to reduce her painful symptoms.

I know all too well what it’s like to be Allyson—I have HS myself. Unlike her, however, it took six years for me to get a diagnosis (the doctors I had seen in Canada hadn’t even heard of the disease). Before I got diagnosed, I was so desperate for a cure that I purchased different creams, salves and ointments online, that had no medical proof, but that claimed to ‘cure’ my symptoms. One of the salves I bought caused a horrible burning sensation on my skin; another, an oil made out of emu fat (I’m not joking!), did absolutely nothing other than make my skin oily. Some of these so-called ‘treatments’ may have even made my condition worse.

Several members of my family, who are big proponents of alternative medicine, even brought me to a naturopath in the hopes of combating my Sjögren’s Syndrome symptons. I followed various different diets to no avail, took all types of unproven supplements, and even tried chelation therapy, which involves the intravenous administration of drugs to remove heavy metals from the body (this can even result in death). Although I am not against exploring alternative treatments and making lifestyle changes, none of these treatments improved my condition, and they cost even more than science-backed methods.

Like Allyson, I am tired of always trying to ‘chase’ a new treatment, scientific or not, in the hopes of finding a cure. Although I will never truly give up, I would urge others suffering from chronic illnesses not to get desperate; or at least to not allow your desperation to cloud your judgement. If you’re going to try an alternative therapy, at least run it by your physician first, so that you can ensure it’s safe before testing its effectiveness.

Have you had any success treating your condition with alternative medicine? Comment below!

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Top News in Autoimmune Disease – July 20, 2019

iMD Partners with the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA)

On July 17, 2019, iMD Health Global, a Toronto-based health technology company, announced that it has formed a strategic partnership with the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA). The partnership will help enhance communication between physicians and autoimmune disease patients to improve health outcomes.

iMD Health provides revolutionary technology to facilitate dialogue between physicians and patients inside the examination room. The iMD platform enables healthcare professionals to instantly access thousands of educational graphics, videos and resources at the point of care. The company’s platform is currently being used across Canada, and is now expanding across the United States as well.

Virginia Ladd, Executive Director & President of the AARDA commented, “With iMD, quick and easy access to a robust and visually appealing resource is now literally at the physician’s fingertips. With a better understanding of their conditions, patients can make informed and responsible decisions about managing their health and the required steps to address their condition.”

To read more about this exciting new partnership, click here.

Is There a Connection Between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and Autoimmune Disease?

Dawn Debois, a columnist on Lambert-Eaton News, explores the relationship between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and the development of autoimmune disease.

Debois has several autoimmune conditions herself, including Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), psoriatic arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and ankylosing spondylitis. These conditions lead to her being diagnosed with multiple autoimmune syndrome.

Debois believes that the early childhood trauma that she experienced from losing her mother before the age of five and being placed into foster care may have triggered the onset of these autoimmune conditions. She completed a questionnaire that revealed that she had an ACE score of four, which is considered high, and is a high predictor of diagnosed autoimmune disease in adulthood, according to this study.

She further discusses the prevalence of the protein HLA-B27 in her blood, which can lead to a higher risk of developing certain autoimmune diseases. Therefore, while early childhood trauma may be an environmental factor affecting the pathogenesis of autoimmune disease, there are genetic factors as well.

To read more about Deb’s story and the link between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and autoimmunity, click here.

How a 71-year-old man got diagnosed with Autoimmune Encephalitis (AE)

Robert Given was a 71-year-old Accountant who ran his own CPA firm and was heavily involved in his local community. Although he didn’t have any prior history of autoimmune disease, he suddenly found himself impacted by a severe autoimmune condition.

While dining out with friends, Given suddenly slumped over, had a seizure, and urinated on himself. Restaurant patrons helped him to lay on the floor and called an ambulance. By the time the ambulance arrived, he had regained consciousness but was confused, refusing to step into the ambulance until his wife told him to.

After being evaluated by a number of physicians, including an internist and a neurologist, the medical professionals made several interesting discoveries. Given had had a sudden drop in blood pressure that was uncharacteristic for someone with well-controlled high blood pressure like himself. His wife also reported that he was losing his balance, had difficulty sleeping and sometimes had slurred speech. He was also highly talkative, to the point that it appeared to be logorrhea – a constant need to talk, even if the speech is often incoherent and repetitive.

Given had a second seizure, and was once again transported to the hospital. After this second episode, his doctor pondered what condition could possibly cause a sudden onset of both neurological and psychiatric symptoms. He hypothesized that his patient might have either Multiple Sclerosis (MS), or some type of heavy metal toxicity and ordered a round of tests to see if this was the case.

The tests came back negative for MS and heavy metals, and his medical team thought that they had to go back to the drawing board. Suddenly, however, his internist Dr. Hersch realized that he had seen a similar case several years prior; the patient had died, but his test results had revealed that he had autoimmune encephalitis (AE), a group of conditions in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the brain.

Dr. Hersch ordered a new round a tests that confirmed that Robert Given did indeed have a type of autoimmune encephalitis caused by a rogue antibody called CASPR2. Symptoms included fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rate, loss of balance, insomnia, and personality changes, and the majority of patients were men over the age of 65- just like Given!

Given has been receiving treatment for his condition at the Mayo Clinic for the last three years. Due to the difficult nature of this disease, his recovery is slow, but he is relieved to have been diagnosed in time to receive life-saving medication.

The Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance says that while Given is lucky to have received a diagnosis, their aim is to raise awareness so that others with AE do not have to rely on luck to determine the outcome of the disease.

To read the original story by Dr. Lisa Sanders from the New York Times, click here. Also, check out this trailer for Brain on Fire, a movie based on a real-life story of a woman with AE.

Top News in Autoimmune Disease – May 15, 2019

Type 1 Diabetes Patients Drive to Canada for Affordable Insulin


Lija Greenseid of Minnesota holds up insulin for her 13-year-old daughter that she purchased from Fort Francis, Ontario during an organized caravan ride to Canada. 

Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys pancreatic cells, rendering them incapable of producing insulin. Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into its cells. As a result, patients with Type 1 Diabetes rely on prescription insulin in order to survive.

Unfortunately, for the majority of Americans, the cost of life-saving insulin keeps going up year after year. As a result, Quinn Nystrom, from Minnesota, organized a caravan to Canada to fill her prescription for insulin, where it sells for a fraction of the cost.

As reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), insulin costs significantly less in Canada, thanks to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, which sets limits for the maximum price that can be charged for patented drugs. As a result, a vial of insulin that costs $300 in the US is only $30 in Canada, even when it comes from the same brand.

Many patients who cannot afford their medication will ration their insulin. Unfortunately, as a result of not taking the required minimum dose, patients who ‘ration’ their insulin can die.

That’s what happened to Alec Smith-Holt, a 26-year-old man from Minnesota who died in 2017 when he couldn’t afford $1,300 in insulin, and decided to ration his remaining supply. His body was discovered five days later. His mother, Nicole Smith-Holt, joined the caravan to Canada as a symbolic gesture in memory of her son.

To read more about this story, click here.

Executive Gets Purple Mohawk to Benefit Kid with Autoimmune Disease

Cayden Krueger, a young patient with ITP, poses with John Stevenson, who is supporting his Pump it Up for Platelets campaign.

Cayden Krueger, from Madison, Wisconsin, was diagnosed with thrombocytopenia purpura (ITP) when he was just 6 years old. ITP is an autoimmune disease that causes patients to have too few platelets in their blood, resulting in easy bruising and bleeding. Cayden has been raising awareness about ITP by launching a Pump it Up for Platelets fundraiser and sporting a purple mohawk.

When John Stevenson, a Senior Director of Financial Services at US Cellular, heard about Cayden’s story, he challenged his employees to raise money for the Pump it Up for Platelets fundraiser, and pledged to get a purple mohawk himself if they could meet a $1,000 goal. His team ended up raising $2,000, so Stevenson found himself with a new hairdo, and Cayden even got to make the first cut.

To read more about this story, click here.

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Top News in Autoimmunity – Week of May 1, 2019

Carrie Ann Inaba Opens Up About Struggling with Fibromyalgia and Other Autoimmune Conditions

Carrie Ann Inaba shares emotional Instagram post about her struggles as an #AutoimmuneWarrior

Carrie Ann Inaba, world-famous dancer and judge on the reality TV show Dancing with the Stars, opened up to fans about her struggle living with multiple autoimmune and chronic health conditions, including fibromyalgia, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal stenosis and antiphospholipid syndrome (APL).

Carrie Ann shared that she has come to feel ashamed about her health issues, stating “I feel so much shame when I go through these things, because I want to be what people see. And people see a healthy person, from the outside.” On the positive side, Carrie Ann says that confronting her health issues has helped her to learn about who she is, besides being a “sexy dancer chick”. 

Carrie Ann says that despite the pain and other symptoms that she battles on a daily basis, she credits her improved health to staying active through practicing yoga and pilates, as well as seeking altnerative treatments like Craniosacral therapy, acupuncture and Reiki.

To learn more about her inspiring story, click here.

The Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) launches a new Exploring Sjogren’s video series

Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation Launches YouTube Video Series

The Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) launched an informative new video series called Exploring Sjogren’s. The videos aim to discuss the complexities of living with the disease and the issues involved with conquering it.

The foundation says that the a new episode will premiere every Monday on their YouTube channel. To learn more about the video series, visit the SSF website by clicking here.

To view the first episode in the series, check out the Exploring Sjogren’s YouTube channel here.

Immune scavenger cells called histiocytes (in green) crowd around muscle fibres (in red), damaging them and causing muscle pain and weakness

Researchers Discover New Autoimmune Disease Causing Muscle Pain and Weakness

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri have identified a new autoimmune disease that causes muscle pain and weakness.

Dr. Alan Pestronk, who leads the university’s Neuromuscular Disease Clinic and works as a professor of neurology, immunology and pathology, says that they have only observed four cases of the disease over the past 22 years.

Dr. Pestronk first observed the disease in 1996, when looking at microscope slides of muscle from a patient experiencing muscle pain and weakness. He noticed that immune scavenger cells called histiocytes that normally feed on dead material were crowded around injured muscle fibers.

He and his colleagues then encountered three more similar cases over more than two decades, each time analyzing detailed biopsies of the patients’ muscle tissue. The four cases discovered were enough to name a new autoimmune disease, large-histiocyte-related immune myopathy.

To learn more about the discovery of this autoimmune disease, click here.

April is Sjögren’s Awareness Month

Raise Awareness About Sjögren’s Syndrome by Sharing Your Story

April is Sjögren’s Syndrome awareness month! To raise awareness about this autoimmune disease, the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) will be posting a daily story about someone affected by the disease on their social media platforms with the hashtag #ThisisSjogren’s. To participate in the campaign, fill out and submit the questionnaire at the following link along with a photo: https://info.sjogrens.org/conquering-sjogrens.

Here’s my questionnaire:

20190316_124525.jpg

Name: Isabel

Current age: 26

Age when diagnosed: 20

City/State: San Diego, California

How would you describe yourself in one word (teacher, graphic designer, stay at home parent): Marketing Coordinator

What are your top three most difficult symptoms to live with: Eye/mouth dryness, joint pain, fatigue

What is your most difficult symptom that people don’t understand: Brain fog – it’s an invisible symptom, and it’s hard to explain

What do you wish people knew about your Sjögren’s: 

That the condition involves the whole body, and it’s more than just eye and mouth dryness (and even those can be destructive symptoms).

What’s your best Sjögren’s tip:
Find a positive outlet in which you can discuss your disease – whether that’s a support group, talking with a loved one or keeping a journal. I write about Sjögren’s on my blog, autoimmunewarrior.org, and use it to connect with others who have the disease.

10 Facts About Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage the body’s vital organs, skin and joints. Read on to find out 10 facts about this chronic autoimmune condition.

1. It is more common than you think

Lupus affects 5 million people worldwide, and 16,000 new cases are reported every year, reports the Lupus Foundation of America. In the United States alone, lupus is estimated to affect up to 1.5 million people. The exact prevalence of lupus among the general population is hard to determine, however, since the symptoms often mimic those of other disorders. For reasons unknown, lupus has become 10 times more common in industrialized Western countries over the last 50 years.

2. It mostly affects women

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Females develop lupus nine times more often than their male counterparts. It is more common in younger women, peaking during the childbearing years; however, 20 percent of lupus cases occur in people over age 50. Because lupus largely impacts women, sex hormones are thought to play a role in the onset of this complex disease.

3. Your ethnicity may play a role

In the United States, lupus is more common in people of color, including those of African, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Native American or Pacific Islander decent. In these populations, lupus is known to develop at a younger age and tends to be more severe as well.

4. Skin problems are a telltale sign

One of the characteristic signs of lupus is a red rash across the cheeks and nose bridge, which worsens when exposed to sunlight, called a ‘butterfly rash’ due to its shape. Other skin problems include calcium deposits under the skin, damaged blood vessels in the skin, and tiny red spots called petechiae, which occurs as a result of bleeding under the skin. Ulcers may also occur in the mucosal lining of the skin. To read more about how lupus affects the skin, click here.

5. Heart problems are also common

Pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac-like membrane around the heart, and abnormalities of the heart valves, which control blood flow, can occur in patients with lupus. Heart disease caused by fatty buildup in the blood vessels, called atherosclerosis, is more prevalent in those with lupus than the general population. To read more about how lupus affects the heart, click here.

6. Lupus affects the nervous system too

A lesser known fact about lupus is its impact on the body’s central nervous system. For example, lupus causes damaging inflammation, which may result in peripheral neuropathy, which involves abnormal sensations and weakness in the limbs. Lupus can also cause cognitive impairment, also called ‘brain fog’, which makes it difficult to process, learn and remember information. Seizures and stroke may also occur.

7. It may be genetic

Lupus tends to run in families. However, the exact inheritance pattern is unknown. Certain gene variations can increase or decrease the risk of developing the disease; however, not everyone with the disease will get lupus. Relatives of those with lupus have a 5-13% chance of developing the disease. Sometimes, someone with a family member with lupus may inherit a different, but related, autoimmune disease, such as Sjögren’s Syndrome or Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

8. Lupus can impact one’s quality of life

According to research conducted by the Lupus Foundation of America, 65% of lupus patients state that chronic pain is the most difficult part of having the disease. Furthermore, 76% of patients say that the disease has caused them to develop fatigue so severe that they have had to cut back on social activities. A further 89% of patients report that they can no longer work full-time as a result of their disease. Lupus can also cause mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

9. The prognosis of the disease varies

Patients with lupus often have episodes during which the condition worsens (called ‘exacerbations’ or ‘flares’), followed by periods of remission. However, since lupus does not currently have a cure, it is a life-long condition. Lupus is known to get worse over time, and damage to the body’s vital organs can be life-threatening. This is why it is important to work with a team of medical professionals that understand the disease.

10. There is hope

If you or a loved one has been newly diagnosed with lupus, check out the Lupus Foundation of America’s newly diagnosed webpage. It is full of resources about the disease, including treatment options, financing your care, and tips on how to live a healthy lifestyle with the disease. You can also sign up for their 8-week email series with tips and resources to empower you to learn more about your condition. The foundation also recently released a new research center on their website, Inside Lupus Research, so that you can keep up-to-date on all of the latest scientific reports, disease management and treatment news.

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