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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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 – 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 Autoimmunity – Week of Feb. 20, 2019

Lupus Strongly Linked to Imbalances in Gut Microbiome

Scientists at the NYU School of Medicine have discovered that systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is strongly linked to imbalances in the body’s gut microbiome.

The study showed that 61 women diagnosed with lupus had five times more Ruminococcus gnavus gut bacteria compared to 17 women who were healthy and did not have lupus. The study also showed that the abnormal levels of gut bacteria appeared to positively correlate with lupus ‘flares’, which are instances when lupus symptoms, such as joint pain, skin rashes, and kidney dysfuntion, increase dramatically.

Dr. Gregg Silverman, immunologist and one of the lead researchers in the study, commented, “Our study strongly suggests that in some patients bacterial imbalances may be driving lupus and its associated disease flares.”

Dr. Silverman also stated that the study may give way to new treatments for the disease, such as probiotics, fecal transplants, or dietary regimens that prevent the growth of the Ruminococcus gnavus gut bacteria. The study also discusses the role of ‘leaky gut’ in triggering the body’s autoimmune reaction.

To read more about the study, click here.

Immunology ‘Boot Camp’ Emphasizes the Role of Chronic Stress in Autoimmune Disease

Leonard Calabrese, Vice Chairman of rheumatic and immunologic disease at the Cleveland Clinic, emphasized the role of chronic stress in the development of autoimmune diseases during an immunology ‘boot camp’.

During his speech, Calabrese cited data that chronic stress compromised the body’s surveillance of pathogens. As a result, modern stressors, such as PTSD, major depression, and the stress associated with being a caregiver, which are chronic in nature, may trigger the pathogenesis of autoimmune disease. This is in contrast to acute stress, which comes in response to immediate dangers, ‘like our ancestors encountering a saber-toothed tiger’, states Calabrese.

The link between chronic stress and autoimmunity has given way to the development a several new therapies. For example, parasympathetic and vagal nerve stimulation are now in development to treat pain-related and autoimmune conditions, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia.

To read more about this research, click here.

Interested in reading more? See last week’s top news in autoimmunity here.

Top News in Autoimmunity – Week of Feb. 13, 2019

Benefit Event Organized for New York Woman with Scleroderma

A benefit event has been organized by the friends of Krislyn Manwaring, a 25-year old woman with Scleroderma living in Erin, NY.

Scleroderma is an autoimmune condition that causes the body’s soft tissue to harden. Manwaring, who is now on oxygen, is in need of a stem cell transplant. However, her health insurance won’t pay for it.

The benefit event will raise funds to go towards Manwaring’s transplant procedure. According to the event’s Facebook page, over 200 attendees have already RSVP’d for the event.

Young Woman Shares Journey with Autoimmune Encephalitis

Tori Calaunan, a young woman from Las Vegas, shares her journey with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis with the Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance.

While in nursing school, Calaunan felt some weakness in her right leg, but brushed it off as nothing serious. As the weakness continued to worsen, she also experienced confusion and dizziness. She passed a neuro test and MRI, however, and doctors told her that everything was fine.

She eventually checked into the ER, and stayed there for a month before transferring to a hospital in California, where she finally received her diagnosis of Autoimmune Encephalitis.

Family of Young Man with Rare Autoimmune Disease Outraged Over Drug Price Hike

Will Schuller, from Overland Park, Kansas, was 18 when he began experiencing extreme weakness. An avid runner, he was pulled out of high school when he struggled to walk down the hall, and stopped being able to go up the stairs.

He was eventually diagnosed with Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), a chronic autoimmune disorder than affects muscle strength. LEMS is reported among 3,000 people in the US, and can dramatically impact one’s quality of life.

Schuller was prescribed a drug called 3,4-DAP, which made him feel better instantly. The drug was free as a result of an FDA program called ‘compassionate use’. The drug’s manufacturing rights, however, were sold to a company called Catalyst, which renamed the drug Firdapse, and raised the price to $375,000/year for the medication.

Schuller’s family decried the extreme price hike, stating that if it hadn’t been for this medication, their son would certainly be in a wheelchair. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont called the price increase a ‘fleecing of American taxpayers’.

Schuller is now a senior studying mechanical engineering at the University of Tulsa. Read more about his story here.

Interested in reading more? See last week’s top news in autoimmunity here.

Top News in Autoimmunity – Week of Feb. 6, 2019

Early Onset Primary Sjögren’s Syndrome May Carry a Worse Prognosis

French researchers have discovered that patients diagnosed with early onset Primary Sjögren’s Syndrome may carry a worse prognosis over the course of the disease. Early onset is defined as a diagnosis before age 35.

The study, reported in Rheumatology, states that early onset of this autoimmune disease was found to be associated with a higher frequency of:

  • Salivary gland enlargement
  • Lymph node enlargement
  • Bleeding underneath the skin
  • Liver involvement
  • ANA (antinuclear antibodies, especially anti-SSA and anti-SSB antibodies)
  • Positive Rheumatoid Factor levels
  • Low C3 and C4 complement protein levels
  • Increased levels of immunoglobulin antibodies in the bloodstream

Furthermore, researchers also acknowledged that those with an early onset of the disease showed a worsening progression in their symptoms, whereas those with a later onset showed significant improvement.

Read more about this ground-breaking study here.

’90 Day Fiancé’ Star Ashley Marston to Undergo Additional Surgery Following Kidney Failure

Ashley Marston, star on TLC’s hit reality TV series ’90 Day Fiancé’, recently revealed that she is undergoing additional surgery following a health scare.

Although she did not reveal the nature of her impending surgical procedure, Marston did reveal that she has an autoimmune condition called lupus. Lupus is a disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks its vital organs. In Marston’s case, she suffers from lupus nephritis, which causes inflammation in the kidneys.

After being found unresponsive in her home last month, she was rushed to the hospital and treated for kidney failure. Her upcoming surgery is speculated to be related to this recent hospitalization.

Fans are wishing Marston the best with her surgery and recovery. Read more about her shocking story here.

Interested in more #autoimmunewarrior news? Visit my last news post, here!