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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10 Facts About Sjögren’s Syndrome

According to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF), Sjögren’s is a systemic autoimmune disease that impacts the entire body, including the eyes, mouth, joints, nerves and major organs. In honor of World Sjögren’s Day, read on to learn 10 facts about this chronic autoimmune condition.

1. It is more common than you think

The SSF estimates that there are as many as 4 million Americans living with the disease, and it’s the second most common autoimmune condition. The exact prevalence of the condition is difficult to determine, however, since the symptoms tend to mimic those of other conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. It can even be confused with menopause, allergies, and drug side effects.

2. It mostly affects women

The SSF states that nine out of 10 Sjögren’s patients are women, and the average age of diagnosis is the late 40s. However, the disease can impact anyone of any age, including men and children as well.

3. It causes extensive dryness

Sjögren’s Syndrome develops as a result of the body’s immune system attacking and destroying the body’s exocrine, or moisture-producing, glands. As a consequence, patients experience widespread dryness throughout their body, but especially impacting their eyes, nose, mouth, skin, vagina and joints.

4. It affects the eyes

The disease is often first detected as a result of eye-related symptoms. This includes dry, gritty eyes that feel like sandpaper when blinking and swollen tear glands. Dry eyes can in turn lead to blurred vision, infections, corneal ulcerations and blepharitis. Several of the eye tests that can be used to help diagnose the condition include a Schirmer test, to measure tear production, and a Rose Bengal and Lissamine Green test, to examine dry spots on the eye’s surface.

5. It affects the mouth, throat and nose

Sjögren’s also affects one’s mouth, throat and nasal cavity; the main symptom being dryness. This, in turn, leads to a whole host of other symptoms, such as mouth sores, dental decay, oral thrush (a yeast infection of the mouth), recurrent sinusitis, nose bleeds, heartburn, reflux esophagitis, and difficulty speaking and swallowing. Some physicians administer a lip gland biopsy as a part of the diagnosis process.

6. It impacts one’s joints too

As the immune system destroys the body’s moisture-producing glands, this results in a decrease in synovial fluid, which helps to keep the joints lubricated. This causes inflammatory joint pain and musculoskeletal pain, and can even lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, as shown through a positive Rheumatoid Factor (RF) reading in the blood. In fact, the main physicians who treat Sjögren’s are rheumatologists.

7. Neurological problems are also common

Sjögren’s causes a variety of nervous system symptoms, including nerve pain and peripheral neuropathy (a numbness and tingling in the extremities). Other neurological problems include difficulty concentrating and memory loss, often referred to as “brain fog”.

8. The prognosis of the disease varies

Patients may find that their symptoms plateau, worsen, or, uncommonly, go into remission. A French research study published in Rheumatology also found that early onset primary Sjögren’s Syndrome carried a worse prognosis over the course of the disease (‘early onset’ is defined as a diagnosis before age 35). While some Sjögren’s patients experience mild discomfort, others suffer debilitating symptoms that greatly impair their quality of life.

9. It can increase one’s risk of cancer

A German study found that Sjögren’s Syndrome moderately increases one’s risk of developing Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL). NHL is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which includes the lymph nodes, spleen, and other tissues. The lifetime risk of developing NHL by age 80 is 8% among men and 5.4% among women with Sjögren’s. This is compared to a risk of 1.6% of men and 1.1% of women in the general population.

10. There is hope

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Sjögren’s, check out the SSF’s video series, Conquering Sjögren’s, and their patient-published Self-Help Booklet. The foundation’s website, www.sjogrens.org, also contains a wealth of resources on the disease, including information about treatment options, survival tips, fact sheets, and even template letters for your health insurance company. You can also check out their extensive network of support groups.

Thank you for stopping by Autoimmune Warrior. If this article was informative to you, please like, share, and 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.

Actress Jameela Jamil Describes Life with Autoimmune Disease

British actress and model Jameela Jamil struggles with daily living with two chronic illnesses, including an autoimmune disease.

British actress and model Jameela Jamil took to Instagram this week to describe her struggle of living with an autoimmune disease. The 33-year-old suffers from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which one’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing hypothryoidism (an underactive thyroid). This, in turn, can lead to symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue and depression.

Jamil wrote, “Living with an autoimmune condition is a real pain in the arse, and it irrationally makes you feel like a failure for not being able to “live it up” like other “normal” people. Shout out to all of us who struggle with this, and go through all of the incredible shitty days, and make it through each one. Even if it’s just by the skin of our teeth. We are LEGENDS for our strength of character.”

In addition to Hashimoto’s, Jamil also revealed that she has Ehler’s-Danlos syndrome (EDS) type 3. While this chronic illness is not autoimmune, in causes various painful symptoms, such as joint hypermobility, loose joints, poor wound healing and easy bruising. Like Hashimoto’s, there is no cure for EDS. Jamil confirmed her condition after a fan asked her why her arm was overextended in a photo on Twitter, then subsequently posted a video stretching her skin.

Jamil also described how hard it is to take care of herself, while others around her experience few health problems, even if they don’t care for their health. She wrote on her Instagram page, “Shout out if you are so fucking tired of having to protect yourself in a bubble while so many other people are able to just eat what they want, take drugs, stay out all night, drink a lot, take risks, do sports….etc. But you make one less than perfect choice and your day/week is ruined. The envy is real…I see you. I hear you. I feel you. I’m with you.”

To read more about Jameela Jamil and her fight against Hashimoto’s and EDS, click here.

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Top News in Autoimmune Disease – June 15, 2019

Girl with Autoimmune Disease Creates Teddy Bears that Hide IV Bags

Medi-Teddies are designed to hide IV bags for children receive intravenous treatments

Ella Casano was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura (ITP) when she was just 7 years old. ITP is known to cause low platelet levels, excessive bruising and bleeding.

Now 12 years old, Ella receives IV infusions every 8 weeks to ease the symptoms of her condition. As part of a class project, she had to come up with a business idea, and, thinking about her experience with IV infusions and how scary the medical equipment can look to children, she came up with the idea of the “Medi-Teddy”, a teddy bear that hides IV bags.

Ella’s family started a GoFundMe page to raise $5,000 to provide 500 Medi-Teddies to kids in need. For more on this story and to learn how you can donate, click here.

British Columbia Mother Sues Over Breast Implant Risks

Samara Bunsko is involved in a class action lawsuit alleging her breast implants made her sick.

Samara Bunsko, 28, of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada, is suing breast implant manufacturer Allergan over allegations that her implants caused her to develop various health issues, including hair loss, irregular thyroid and iron levels, headaches, fatigue and cysts.

Samara is the lead plaintiff in two proposed class action lawsuits against breast implant manufacturers, alleging that they did not disclose the risk of developing certain cancers or autoimmune diseases as a result of the implants.

Dr. Jan Tervaert, Director of Rheumatology at the University of Alberta’s School of Medicine, says that research shows that patients with a genetic predisposition for autoimmune disease have the highest risk of developing symptoms. Furthermore, patients who have had implants the longest are the least likely to experience a cessation in their symptoms once the implants are removed.

Health Canada is conducting a safety review of systemic symptoms caused by breast implants, including the development of autoimmune conditions. To learn more, click here.

Amy Hoey has five different autoimmune diseases, none of which have a cure.

Woman Describes her Experience with Multiple Autoimmune Diseases

Amy Hoey was a young teen when she began to experience a myriad of symptoms, including severely dry skin and body aches. She was told by professionals that she was likely just experiencing eczema and growing pains, when in fact, she had an autoimmune condition called psoriasis. Psoriasis can affect the joints and develop into psoriatic arthritis, which is what happened to Amy.

Later, Amy began to experience extreme fatigue, hair loss, kidney infections and chest pain. She went on to receive a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland.

She started to experience even more symptoms, including a butterfly-shaped rash on her face, mouth ulcers, and memory loss, which lead to the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus. Lupus causes damage to the body’s internal organs, skin and joints.

To top it off, Amy also has celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system damages the small intestine in response to consuming gluten, the protein found in wheat.

Amy felt like she constantly had the flu. Worse still, the physicians she worked with seemed to know little about autoimmune conditions, and one even Googled her conditions in front of her! She also has had allergic reactions to medications used to treat autoimmune disease, and also has a genetic condition that makes her more susceptible to infections, which can be a challenge, since many autoimmune treatments work by suppressing the immune system.

Amy says her best advice is to focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. While she had a difficult time accepting this at first, since she used to be an athlete, maintaining a positive attitude and working with a knowledgeable rheumatologist have been helpful for her treatment.

To read more about Amy’s story, click here.



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Top News in Autoimmune Disease – June 1, 2019

Dr. Dale Lee is the Director of the Celiac Disease Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital

Youth Take On Celiac Disease Through Outreach Program

Last month was Celiac Disease Awareness Month. While Celiac is one of the most common autoimmune diseases, experts at the Seattle Children’s Hospital estimate that for every diagnosis, eight cases are overlooked.

As a result, the hospital has put together an outreach program that allows youth with Celiac disease the opportunity to raise awareness, organize support groups, and mentor other youth with the disease.

There are currently 11 youth members on the Celiac Youth Leadership Council (CYLC), and one of their current initiatives is running a gluten-free food drive for a local food bank.

The most common symptoms of Celiac disease include abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, nausea, and fatigue. Other symptoms include anemia, joint pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, peripheral neuropathy, seizures, canker sores, skin rashes, fatigue, depression and anxiety. In children, the disease can also cause irritability, stunted growth, delayed puberty, and dental damage.

To learn more, click here.

Asaya Bullock (left) pictured here with his sister, is in grave need of a bone marrow match

7-year-old with Rare Autoimmune Disease Needs Life-saving Bone Marrow

Asaya Bullock, a 7-year-old boy from New York, is searching for a donor willing to donate matching bone marrow.

Asaya was born with a rare, life-threatening autoimmune disease called IPEX syndrome. Symptoms include joint pain, body aches, memory loss, fatigue and stomach problems. Doctors said he had two years to live, but, miraculously, he is still alive seven years later.

A bone marrow transplant would greatly help Asaya’s condition; however, since he is of mixed ancestry (part African part Caribbean), finding a matching donor is proving to be a challenge. According to Be the Match, an organization that operates the world’s largest bone marrow registry, the more genetically diverse an individual is, the more difficult it is to find a matching donor.

To learn more about Asaya’s story and how you can join the Be the Match registry, click here.

Monique Bolland describes her harrowing journey living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Australian Woman Describes Her Journey with Multiple Sclerosis

Monique Bolland, 36, from Australia, shares her story living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Bolland was first diagnosed with this incurable autoimmune disease when she was just 22. At the time, she didn’t quite comprehend the severity of her diagnosis.

She says that she first realized how bad her MS symptoms were when she was cutting bread and accidentally cut her hand, but didn’t even notice as a result of the nerve damage and numbness caused by the disease.

MS impacts an estimated 2.5 million people worldwide, and 70% of MS patients are female. Symptoms include impaired motor function, numbness, fatigue, heat sensitivity, optic nerve damage, and more.

Bolland says that living a healthy lifestyle is imperative to managing her MS symptoms. This includes consuming a diet rich in vitamins D, B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, reducing stress and inflammation, and staying active. She also gets monthly injections of Tysabri, an immunosuppressive drug. In addition, she launched a nutrition supplement and health product line called Nuzest with her father, which supports MS research.

To learn more about Bolland’s story, click here.

Actress Nicole Beharie reveals autoimmune disease caused her exit from hit show

Actress Nicole Beharie Exits Show due to Autoimmune Disease

Nicole Beharie, famed actress on Fox’s hit show, Sleepy Hollow, confessed to fans on Instagram that she left the show abruptly as a result of an autoimmune disease she has been keeping secret for the last five years.

Although Beharie didn’t reveal the exact autoimmune condition she has, she states that it caused her to experience skin rashes and fluctuations in her weight. As a result, her character on the show, FBI agent Abby Mills, was killed off in the season 3 finale, allowing her to take a much-needed break for her health.

Beharie says setting boundaries and limitations, as well as changing her diet, were key to improving her physical and mental state.

To read more about her story, click here.

Travis Frederick missed an entire NFL football season as a result of his autoimmune disease

Dallas Cowboys Frontman Tackles Autoimmune Condition and Injuries

Travis Frederick, the Dallas Cowboys’ all-star center, revealed that he suffers from an autoimmune condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome. This caused him to miss playing an entire NFL football season, while a backup played in his place. He also revealed he had two surgeries during this time.

Frederick is now expected to return to the starting lineup this upcoming season. However, since he is still experiencing lingering effects of Guillain-Barre, he is being brought back on to the field slowly.

To learn more about Frederick’s story, click here.