If sleeping becomes an Olympic event, I’m going to win!

Should the subject of sleep and insomnia come up when Mr. Wanton and I are at a social event, he is sure to say: “My wife is the best sleeper I know. No one looks happier when sleeping than she does.” I never contradict him, nor will I ever argue it is not true. Instead, I have been known to reply: “Yes, if sleeping were an Olympic event, I would be the gold medal winner!”


(What Mr. Wanton thinks I look like when sleeping….yes, smiling.)

80% of Sjogren’s patients have persistent fatigue as a symptom, according to a recent Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation study (2016), making it the third most prevalent symptom after dry eyes and dry mouth. It is such a common complaint, fatigue is now considered a “hallmark symptom” of the disease.

As I mentioned in my last post, it was indeed the first symptom I noticed, the one that lead to my repeated visits to the doctor as I sought to discover what was going on with my body. In hindsight, I had dry eyes and dry mouth at that time as well, but the progression was so slow I did not notice. Overwhelming fatigue and soreness throughout my body were much more difficult to live with, and ignore.

After a day of “dragging my carcass around”, as both Mr. Wanton and I like to refer to it, nothing brings me more pleasure than crawling into my bed. Admittedly, I am a creature of comfort come the end of the day. And I have a definite routine for how I get my tired and sore body comfortable at bedtime.

Before I use bathroom for the last time, and put my “eye goop” in, I heat a couple of “magic bags” in the microwave, then I crawl in to my bed which has the softest finest thread count flannelette sheets on top of a quilted faux down mattress cover. I just noticed I called it “my bed”; I do so frequently without intention, regardless of the fact I share it with Mr. Wanton because I guess it is just that important to me.

So, I climb into the king size bed, and roll on my right side (I have a phobia of going to sleep on my left side and feeling my heartbeat, since having some severe atrial fibrillation episodes at bedtime), putting a body pillow between my knees and against my torso, then I put the heated bags on across my low back + hip area. Then I put my head on my pillow which is the most incredibly soft pillow I could find, took years to get the right one but it was so worth it. I might love that pillow more than Mr. Wanton.

A few months ago at book club we read a dystopian novel. At one point during the discussion, the facilitator asked us: “if you had time to take only one item from your home, what would it be?” Without hesitation, I answered “my pillow”. Everyone looked at me, disbelieving, speechless. All I said was “I love my pillow”. That was my answer because I know if I could have my all-time favourite pillow and get sleep, perhaps I could survive the apocalypse. I’m surviving Sjogren’s, so why the hell not aim even higher?

For the most part if I have a “regular day”, meaning no extra or out of the ordinary activities, I can fall asleep relatively easily, the aches and pains of the day relieved by heat on my back and hips, the softness of my bed, comfortable bedding, and exhaustion leading to quick sleep for eight –nine hours without waking for more than seconds at a time to shift positions or add eye drops because I feel my cornea getting stuck to my eyelid, then boom, back to sleep immediately. I would like to report feeling refreshed and pain free when getting my full night’s sleep, but it would be a lie. I never feel rested no matter how long I sleep, or how soundly. Never. I begin every single day feeling tired, and sore.

I am one of the fortunate patients who is able to sleep. Many, many Sjogren’s patients report difficulty with falling and staying asleep for various reasons such as joint pain, dry mouth, headaches, restless leg syndrome, neuropathic pain, etc.

If I have a day with even one slightly non-routine activity that has added more soreness to my joints and muscles, I can have difficulty, and be awake for hours trying to get comfortable enough to ignore the pain and fall asleep. Sometimes, that involves using topical pain relief products or OTC pain meds (though because I also have autoimmune hepatitis I try to avoid them).

Mr. Wanton claims I “run around all day”, until I am “ready to drop”, then “jump into bed”. What he actually means is I move at a snail’s pace, followed by some sloth like hours prior to bedtime, then yes, I do drop into bed. His perception of me moving all day is not because of me running anywhere, but because I find being in ANY one position for any amount of time uncomfortable. I get stiff and sore. His scientific test for my amount of movement being abnormal is that I cannot sit still without moving, and if a TV program is more than half an hour I need to get up and move around, or do something to distract myself from the pain.

Often I have been asked if I nap during the day. The answer is no. I have attempted the art of napping, but never mastered it. I think my difficulty is falling into deep sleep rapidly, so upon waking from a daytime nap I am groggy to the point of feeling unwell. A friend in California told me her naturopathic doctor says if you are unable to sleep during the day, a period of even twenty minutes rest in a horizontal position is restorative for the adrenal glands. I have not researched to discover the truth of this information, but certainly rest periods are healthy and essential for me, and all other Sjogren’s patients I know.

Sleep may be what I love doing more than any other activity. I realize life is short, and hate to think I’m sleeping so much of mine away, but my body and mind crave it. Sleep is my escape from the fatigue and pain that plagues my every waking moment.

Coming soon: The best advice a Rheumatologist ever gave me; plus how do fatigue, joint pain, and muscle soreness limit my daily activities; how I cope with sunny outdoor activities; how my life has changed; and more.

P.S. I originally intended to blog daily for Sjogren’s Awareness Month but yesterday I was too tired, and too sore – my fingers especially were not happy, so I took a day off.

Road to Sjogren’s Diagnosis was Exhausting

Endless, unrelenting fatigue and sore muscles were the symptoms that first had me seeking help from the doctor, followed by joint pain not long after. I began discussing these complaints with my family doctor in the early 1990s. At the time I had three young children at home; I worked full-time, and was a volunteer involved with my children’s extra-curricular activities.

Although these symptoms started mildly, they became a source of concern as they continued to escalate in severity despite my healthy lifestyle. I did not drink or smoke, slept really well for eight hours per night, ate nutritious meals, and got regular exercise. Still I did not feel well. My doctor told me I was a busy mom, and hence my fatigue and soreness. He did a few blood tests to ensure my iron levels, B12, and the basics were all okay, all came back normal. He said I did not have Fibromyalgia, nor did I have chronic fatigue. I believed him, but I also knew I was tired and sore all the time. Something was not right.

In desperation to get relief I went to physiotherapy. I told the therapist about my soreness and fatigue and asked if she could possibly provide treatments that might be helpful. After listening carefully, she asked numerous questions, finally ending with, “Have you ever been tested for Lupus?” I explained I had requested testing for autoimmune connective tissue diseases but the doctor assured me I did not have Lupus, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, which by this time was my biggest fear. She told me to go back and ask again.

I did, and he again refused. He assured me he believed I had the symptoms, he did not think I was imagining them (so he told me to my face but I wonder if perhaps behind my back he did think I was), however the symptoms were of no concern. Maybe to him they were not, but they sure were to me. Finally he sent me to an internal medicine specialist, I found out in hindsight he wrote a letter to my family physician saying I was just depressed. By this time, he was right, I was becoming depressed because I knew there was something wrong yet he was making me feel like I didn’t know my own body and what was normal for me to feel.

So, because of what the physiotherapist had said, I sought out a different doctor at a clinic I had never been to. He listened, and then said he’d like to run numerous blood tests before we discussed the possibilities further. A couple lab tests came back positive; he set up a referral for me with a Rheumatologist immediately.

The first appointment with the Rheumatologist was rather brief, he did check my joints, and assured me I did not have Rheumatoid Arthritis, that I had great range of motion and strength, and most importantly no swelling. Most of the rest of the appointment was spent with him asking me questions about my family health history as well as my own. He asked me about my work and home life. I honestly think because I was still doing all my regular activities he dismissed the possibility of anything being seriously wrong. In fact, he said so. He assured me I was perfectly healthy, had nothing to worry about, and by all means I should continue to do all I had been doing. “But”, he said “I will just run a few more highly specialized tests to be sure, but go home and don’t worry, I’m sure they will be fine.”

Two weeks later, he called me and said he needed to see me at his office again, three hours away in the closest city to where I live. This time he did a very thorough examination, starting oddly, I thought at the time, with my mouth. After the physical exam, he told me I had Sjogren’s Syndrome. Both the SS-A and SS-B antibodies were found in my blood along with positive ANA and RF. I definitely had Sjogren’s Syndrome. He explained it was nothing to worry about. I was thrilled. I really did have something wrong with me; I had not been imagining it. He explained Sjogren’s was nothing I really needed to be too concerned about, except staying out of the sun as the SS-A antibodies were linked to sun-sensitivity that could trigger further disease activity. I heeded his advice, was fastidious with the use of sunblock and avoided the sun during peak hours.

Little did I know at the time, he, like many other Rheumatologists did not know much about Sjogren’s. I was excited to have a name for what I had been suffering with, since it was now May 2002, just weeks before my 40th birthday. Approximately ten years had passed since I had begun mentioning the fatigue and pain I had. I remember telling my long time family doctor, “I could go to sleep anywhere, anytime, and sleep and sleep and sleep, all I need to do is lie down.”

Recently the Sjogren’s syndrome Foundation has acknowledged not just dry eye and mouth as “hallmark symptoms”, but fatigue and joint pain as well. May I join numerous other Sjogren’s patients in saying: FINALLY!

In upcoming posts I will explain how the fatigue and joint / muscle pain has affected my life, as well as the best advice a Rheumatologist ever gave me.

To learn more about the diagnosis of Sjogren’s and the 13 types of fatigue experienced click on the following links:

Multiple Tests Required to Diagnose Sjogren’s

13 Types of Fatigue Sjogren’s Patients Experience

Sjogren’s Quickie: Dry Eyes Q&A

Writing a 500 word blog post each day is perhaps a bit much for me…more on Sjogren’s fatigue another day when I am not so – you guessed it – tired. So, in between longer posts I will answer questions, or post a mini-blog.

I promised to answer the questions I was asked a couple of days ago regarding Sjogren’s and my eyes, so here you go:

Does it come on with age?

I am not sure if the person meant Sjogren’s in general or the dry eye issue specifically. Overwhelmingly Sjogren’s affects women, less than 10% of those afflicted are male. And 2/3rds of Sjogren’s patients are over the age of 60 at diagnosis. It used to take over ten years for diagnosis on average (that has been brought to below five years now), so average age at diagnosis may not tell the entire story, if it took someone more than ten years to get the diagnosis. Though the majority of patients are older women, Sjogren’s can affect anyone of any age, including young children. I believe I had Sjogren’s already as a teenager, yet I was not diagnosed until the age of forty.

As far as the eyes specifically, each patient is unique in their constellation of symptoms and the onset of each, but typically dry eye is extremely common. In fact, in a recent study in the USA 92% of Sjogren’s patients had dry eye as a symptom, the highest incidence of any of the symptoms – tied with dry mouth. It is considered one of what they refer to as “hallmark symptoms” of Sjogren’s, because it is the most common.

Are the eye drops, gels, ointments, etc covered by your health plan?

We have two different health plans (which we pay for ourselves since my husband is self-employed) and neither cover any of my eye drops or ointment, not even those prescribed by optometrist / ophthalmologist. The lack of coverage for the over-the-counter products used by Sjogren’s patients is a major complaint. It is similar to diabetics having to pay for blood glucose testing strips; they are “essential” yet not covered by health insurance (at least not in my locale).

Does it affect daily vision?

Yes, it can and it does simply by reason of a dry eye being an irritated eye. If you have ever had light dust blow in your eye while outside, that is similar to the feeling of a very dry eye, hence the importance of eye drops, gels, ointments, etc. Some patients even wear special goggles at night, or in the house during daytime, in an attempt to preserve any moisture in their eyes.

If you prep your eyes for the night before you go to sleep, what happens if you wake up to use bathroom or you need to get up during night?

I just do same routine as in morning – gentle rub of lid to protect cornea- go to bathroom – put more drops / ointment in after. I know my way to bathroom in bedroom well enough in dark, and fortunately I don’t often wake up to use bathroom after I am asleep. When my eyes are “gooped up” I can still sort of see, somewhat like through fogged up ski goggles. My vision is very blurry, but I’m able to make it to bathroom as I have no “hazards” on route. And the goop doesn’t last entire night, which sounds like a good thing but actually it is not because sometimes my eyes get so dry during the night I actually wake up because I can feel the lid sticking to cornea, pulling on it.

Honestly, at this time my eye regime is quite simple compared to that of many Sjogren’s patients. Other types of “remedies” include: artificial tear inserts, a prescription medication – Restasis, tear duct (punctual) plugs, moisture shields, etc. There is also something called “serum tears” which is not yet mainstream, being produced only in select laboratories. Serum tears are produced from the patient’s own blood, with the red blood cells and clotting factors removed, then bottled. If you would like to learn more about Sjogren’s and dry eye here is a link below to get you started:

Dry Eye Info from the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation

Sjogren’s: Nuisance or Big Deal?

I have been thinking a lot about whether to write about Sjogren’s this month, wondering if perhaps the people who know me already knew enough about Sjogren’s. If people were wanting to know more they could just Google and get plenty of information that way, especially if searching for the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation or Sjogren’s Canada. Another reason for my uncertainty was because I didn’t want my blog to become focused solely on Sjogren’s.

I suspect some readers may be thinking I write about my own experiences with illness to garner attention or sympathy. Many people, including some health professionals, believe Sjogren’s is just “not that big of a deal”. Often people tell me I could have a disease much worse than Sjogren’s. That is true. Are there worse diseases to have? Of course; ALS comes to mind first off, but there are many others. I currently have people I love being treated for metastasized cancer; others hospitalized with other autoimmune illnesses fighting courageous battles to regain some semblance of health. I understand the reality of more severe illness, but I also want people to be aware that Sjogren’s is not a simple, relatively benign disease, just a nuisance.

Several years ago a study was done comparing quality of life for patients of various chronic and / or progressive diseases – Sjogren’s was on par with Multiple Sclerosis for impact on day to day life. Using eye drops is a mere inconvenience compared to many other aspects of the disease. Sjogren’s can progress to affect organs such as the liver and the lungs. Many of the treatments for Sjogren’s and related complications are chemotherapy and biologic drugs, “heavy hitters”, also used for cancer treatment or to prevent rejection after organ transplants. (It should be noted that there currently exists no specific treatment protocol for Sjogren’s as there is for MS or RA.)

Yesterday after blogging about one specific and minute part of my Sjogren’s journey, my eye care ritual, I realize I do need to continue to write about Sjogren’s. Not just the facts and “bones” of what it is as can be found on many medical websites, but the human experience of my journey. I can tell you from my brief time in a Sjogren’s on-line support group, though sharing the same disease and many of the same symptoms, every patient has a unique combination of symptoms and treatment.

Thank you to those who read yesterday’s blog post and made comments, or asked questions on my Facebook page, you have shown me there is still more for me to tell about Sjogren’s. If you look in one of a very few books about Sjogren’s, or on-line, you can quickly discover what tests they can do when looking at your eyes, and some possible treatments. From the responses I received yesterday, I realized yes, a book can tell you Sjogren’s patients use eye-drops daily, but that doesn’t really tell you what that actually means day-to-day. Over the next month I hope to help you understand what it is like for me to live with this chronic, incurable, progressive disease.

Click on text below to view brief video:
Excellent 3 minute TV News Interview with a Patient + Dr.

I wish it was just an April Fool’s joke….

Waking this morning, my first thought before even opening my eyes was: what day is it today? Which was quickly followed by Saturday – April 1st – April Fool’s Day – also the first day of Sjogren’s Awareness Month.

I was then awake enough to roll over and open my eyes. But before opening my eyes each morning, I first must, ever so gently, rub each of my closed eyelids with a finger. Massaging lightly over the entire surface of my closed eyelid allows it to delicately detach any part of the lid that might be stuck to my cornea due to night time dryness. To most, this would seem a ridiculous and unnecessary activity prior to getting out of bed, however it is crucial for me. After numerous painful rips and damage to my cornea due to dry eyes caused by Sjogren’s Syndrome, I finally remember never to just pop my eyes open upon waking.

Immediately after getting my eyelids open, I reach over for the eye drops on the night table plopping a couple drops into each eye. I do this with a great deal of care as well, not because it is an intricate procedure but because eye drops are so damn expensive they might as well be liquid gold so I dare not waste a single drop with poor aim.

After putting the drops in, my vision appears as though clouded due to light fog permeating the house. There is no fog, and my vision is fine, but the drops I use first thing in morning are to replace the lipid layer in my eye which several years ago the optometrist told me was nearly non-existent. The drops look like milk, and contain lipids which most simplistically are fats, vitamins, and other things that help preserve eye surface health. While I wait for the foggy white vision to dissipate, I sip on a bit of water to quench my dry mouth, and do gentle restorative yoga while still cozy in bed.

Throughout the day I replenish and refresh my eyes a multitude of times with another type of drop which is even more expensive but is lighter and within a few blinks does not cloud my vision. Before going to bed at night I coat my eyes with an ointment prescribed by a specialist which I need to prevent cornea rips during sleep. After the ointment is in and has coated my eye surface, I add a couple drops in each eye of yet another type of eye drop this one a thick gel. I have become fastidious regarding my night rituals, since as you can imagine once my eyes are “gooped up” for the night, all other activities requiring vision must cease.

So why, you may ask, am I telling you about what I do to my eyes? Well, my realization it was both April Fool’s Day and the start of Sjogren’s Awareness Month, also had me wondering what if Sjogren’s was all just a big joke (albeit a perverse, nasty mean one)? How wonderful to wake one morning, maybe even today, to discover it had all been a bad, bad dream. I knew that to be sheer fanciful thinking; I didn’t take the chance to pop my eyelids wide open, risking a tear. It did give me pause for thought though – how would my life be different if I didn’t have Sjogren’s? I can only imagine, but for this month instead of thinking of “what might have been”, I will share with you my “what is”.

P.S. Obviously this website is hosted/shows time on the other side of the world from me, as I see the date as already tomorrow. Time flies fast enough, I don’t like them showing me today is already over when it is’t where I live, and isn’t that all that counts? 🙂

World Sjogren’s Day – Saturday July 23rd!

In an effort to increase local awareness of Sjogren’s among medical professionals in my own community, I prepared the following letter which I plan to deliver next week to local physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, and optometrists. If you have Sjogren’s and would like to copy and paste any portion of this letter for similar purposes please do so. Thank you to Dr. S. Schafer for permission to use her statistics re: Breast Cancer, and the story comparing them to Sjogren’s at her medical presentation.

Dear Medical Professionals:

Saturday, July 23rd was World Sjogren’s Day, a day set aside to promote awareness of Sjogren’s Syndrome. I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s in 2002. The typical responses I have heard from medical professionals when I tell them I have Sjogren’s have been:

“I have never heard of that, what is it?”

“Show what? Can you spell it so I can do a search?”

“Oh that’s nothing; it’s just dry eyes and dry mouth.”

“Venus Williams has that, right? She still plays competitive tennis so it’s not that bad.”

Though Sjogren’s is one of the most commonly occurring connective tissue autoimmune diseases it gets little mention in medical school lecture theatres. It is rarely diagnosed until several years, sometimes decades, after onset. Sjogren’s , like Lupus, can present with a myriad of symptoms varying from patient to patient, eluding even the most skilled diagnostician. Blood tests for antibodies do not always come back positive especially in early stages of the disease.

As a physician who has Sjogren’s herself was prepping for her most recent Sjogren’s presentation for medical residents, she ran across breast cancer stats. In the US, the 2016 estimate of patients living with breast cancer or a history of breast cancer is 2.8 million. People diagnosed with Sjogren’s are estimated at 3-4 million plus. Both diseases mostly (but not 100 percent) impact women. Both have overall survival rate of approximately 90 percent, or on the other side of the coin, 10 percent mortality directly from the disease. Apparently the medical residents were quite stunned to hear about these comparable statistics. However when it comes to public education and awareness, Sjogren’s lags far behind.

It is my hope you will take time to read through the enclosed information sheets provided by the Sjogren’s Foundation, sharing the facts about Sjogren’s with your colleagues and staff.

If you would like to read a medical text about the diagnosis and treatment of Sjogren’s, I would recommend “The Sjogren’s Book – 4th edition” edited by Daniel J. Wallace, MD.

To find out more about the recent development and dissemination of the first USA Clinical Practice Guidelines for Sjögren’s, contact the SSF office at 1-800-475-6473 or visit their website: http://www.sjogrens.org

If you are curious about my personal experience with Sjogren’s, along with several related diagnoses that followed, please feel free to contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx or via e-mail: suemw3@mail.com, or visit my blog: http://www.wantonwordflirt.com and click on “Sjogren’s”.  I welcome discussion, feedback or questions from medical professionals or patients – let’s learn together.

Thank you.
Suzanne

P.S. Why July 23rd? World Sjögren’s Day was created to commemorate the birthday of Dr. Henrik Sjögren, the Swedish ophthalmologist who discovered Sjögren’s in 1933.

Sjogrens Fact Sheet

 

Put On Purple today!

So, I was going to leave illnesses behind to blog about something completely unrelated to my medical adventures, but then I realized today is Lupus Awareness “Put On Purple” Day, so decided to post my POP selfie.

IMG_1512

Before I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, when I was trying everything I could think of (other than medication) to alleviate the myriad of muscle and joint aches I was suffering from, a physiotherapist suggested I ask my doctor to be checked for Lupus. I had asked before. I asked again. My doctor refused, saying I did not have Lupus or any other AI connective tissue disease. So I found a doctor who was willing to test for it.

I did test positive for the ANA blood test but not the anti-dsDNA antibodies for Lupus. A tiny percentage of people who do not have Lupus can test positive for ANA but most people who test positive do have Lupus. Symptoms have to be considered alongside blood work.

If you’d like to know more about the specific blood tests here is a reputable link: http://www.hopkinslupus.org/lupus-tests/lupus-blood-tests/

As I mentioned in earlier posts I did also test positive for the SS-A and SS-B antibodies specific for Sjogren’s. SS-A are related to sun sensitivity, so though I have had the definitive Lupus “malar rash” on my face in the past, some doctors felt it was due to the SS-A antibodies in combination with too much sun exposure, not due to Lupus.

It only takes mere minutes, even fifteen in direct summer sun for me to end up with a malar rash accompanied soon after by extreme fatigue. Some people think sun exposure for people with Lupus or SS-A antibodies of Sjogren’s is no big deal. They are wrong. Even minimal sun exposure can result in a systemic response, possibly even triggering an autoimmune attack on an individual’s organs such as kidneys, the brain, or lungs.

IMG_0292

The jury still seems to be out, no agreement between doctors thus far on my Lupus diagnosis. Although I do have other symptoms of Lupus, one doctor said I don’t have “full-blown” Lupus with “organ involvement”. and because I additionally have had skin manifestations of yet another autoimmune connective tissue disease – dermatomyositis – which affects the skin and underlying muscle tissue they are calling what I have “Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease”.

There is an accepted criteria for diagnosis of Lupus and a person must exhibit 4 of the 11 characteristics over time to be diagnosed, I have six. To learn more about the diagnostic criteria and symptoms visit your local Lupus organization website or click here:

http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/lupus-diagnostic-criteria

The Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease diagnosis is on top of Sjogren’s and Autoimmune Hepatitis. With my body, the fun just never seems to end! Most of the people I know personally who have Sjogren’s also seem to be collecting other autoimmune conditions as time goes on.

We’d all prefer to collect something else. However it seems getting one AI connective tissue disease such as Lupus, is like getting one domino, soon you collect more to stack alongside, then from time to time, one gets pushed over toppling the others spinning you into a “flare” of one or more of your conditions, then possibly adding yet another.

Part of why Lupus and related conditions are so difficult to diagnose is every patient can present a different constellation of symptoms, and blood tests do not always give definitive answers. Awareness will help create quicker diagnosis times, expedite necessary treatment protocols, and hopefully lengthen life span while enabling higher quality of life as well.

Help spread the word and “Put On Purple”!

Oh no, here we go again!

It is now May 1st. Sjogren’s Awareness Month is over with for another year. I’m so relieved that I don’t have to think about it anymore!

Yes, of course I am being sarcastic. Anyone who suffers with a chronic illness is well “aware” of the effects of the illness every month, week, day, and sometimes minute of the year. It is not just Sjogren’s patients who have to live with on-going symptoms, but many people who have autoimmune and other illnesses.

Type 1 diabetics cannot just “let it go” and not think about their bodies, symptoms, medications, and self-care. If a Type 1 Diabetic doesn’t monitor their blood sugar level the consequences can indeed be dire. It is essential they are vigilant in monitoring themselves several times a day.

May is Celiac Awareness Month, likewise for another autoimmune disease, Lupus, which is sometimes called a “sister disease” to Sjogren’s because they share so many similarities. In fact, this month in Canada, we recognize 38 different health conditions. Some have an awareness day, some a week, others devote the entire month to public education and awareness.

BrainCancer.org-Go-Gray-in-May

Gluten awareness

Mental Health Month

World Lupus Day

Celiac patients must be vigilant in ensuring they do not consume gluten. For them, eating gluten-free is not a fad or choice, but a medically essential task. Most people eat three meals a day, possibly some snacks. Imagine having to be concerned at every single meal if there might be gluten ingredients in your food, which could trigger horrible gastrointestinal symptoms as well as other systemic symptoms if accidently ingested.

I understand “awareness” months are really not for the people afflicted with any of these illnesses. Likewise caregivers of children, or adults who have chronic and / or terminal illnesses, including mental health issues, or lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy or autism hardly need any reminder whatsoever of what is involved with having such a diagnosis, its effects on the individual as well as the people who care for them.

So though you may get “sick” of hearing about these various illnesses as we go through the year and they each take turns being condition of the month, remember that no one is more “sick and tired” of them than the person who has the condition. Remember a little understanding on your part can go a long way, someone you love will love you for it!

Sick of hearing about Sjogren’s?

Are you sick of hearing about Sjogren’s Syndrome?

The topic came up this week on Christine Molloy’s Facebook page “Thoughts and Ramblings on Life, Love and Health”. Christine has a blog: http://www.christinemolloy.com She celebrated her 6th anniversary of beginning the blog by posting the link to her very first blog post again this week. Over the years she has posted about Sjogren’s but her blog is not exclusively about the syndrome. At the outset she made a conscious decision for it not to be. She stated she was more than Sjogren’s, so she intended her blog to be more than just that too.

Likewise I made a similar decision about my blog when I began. That is why I have a topic bar underneath my blog title, so people can chose to read just the Sjogren’s posts or random topics, just memoir or poems, or whichever combo thereof.

It is a common concern of most Sjogren’s patients (as I am sure is the same with sufferers of any other chronic illness) to not to talk about their illness all of the time. We are quite aware other people will get sick of hearing about it, because guess what? So do we.

Unfortunately it is not an easy ailment for patients to ignore since symptoms frequently affect a person from head to toe, literally.  It is chronic and without cure. There is no treatment specific to Sjogren’s; what treatments are available are often hit and miss.Relentlessly day after day, Sjogren’s is exhausting.

Even the minority of Sjogren’s patients who are not affected initially by overwhelming fatigue become tired because of the illness being so invasive of time, energy and finances. Fatigue is not just a physical symptom of the disease itself and the chronic flu-like pain so many suffer with, but also becomes a side effect of what it takes to manage the disease. A few years ago a chronic disease lifestyle study was done which showed that Sjogren’s was on par with Multiple Sclerosis as far as the patients’ day to day quality of life.

While admittedly we get tired of not just hearing about Sjogren’s but also living with it, many of us do feel it is critical to raise awareness of the disease, as well as reach out to support others, especially those who may be new to the diagnosis, or perhaps still seeking one. So for that reason I will continue to post about Sjogren’s from time to time, not just during awareness month but whenever the mood strikes me.

Am I doing it for attention, pity, sympathy, or to play the “my disease / symptoms are worse than yours” game? Absolutely not.

I do it to educate, so perhaps others who may be struggling with symptoms may have a shorter road to diagnosis and treatment than I had. I also do it in hope of creating better understanding not just of the medical aspects of Sjogren’s, but for the challenges that come along with living with the myriad of symptoms. I do it not just for the Sjogren’s patients but also for their loved ones, so that they too may have a better understanding of the syndrome, thus in turn the potential for greater patience and compassion. I do it because telling my story makes me feel better, and maybe just maybe, my story might do the same for you.

vanzant quote re story sharing

http://www.sjogrens.org
http://www.sjogrenscanada.org

If you can swish or spit, celebrate!

We take so many things for granted until we don’t have them in sufficient quantities or quality. For Sjogren’s patients that would include saliva. (And tears of course, but that’s a story for another day.)

Sometimes Sjogren’s patients still have some saliva but I have been told and have read it is of a different quality than normal. Other Sjogren’s patients have quite a large quantity remaining, so find this to be one of their lesser symptoms.

I wouldn’t say the problem of dry mouth varies too much overall in my case. It’s always bad. Though of course there are things that make it slightly better or worse such as types of foods consumed, some teas, certain toothpastes and mouthwashes (especially those containing alcohol).

There is help for dry mouth, both oral medications (a couple different types – Salagen or Evoxac), as well as over the counter products. I have never tried the oral prescription meds because they have never been recommended to me, and also they can have many side effects (lung issues, profuse sweating, etc.) Some people do not tolerate them well. I often have issues with medications so have steered clear of them so far, but would consider if I started choking frequently or developed increasingly serious oral health issues.

I have used over the counter saliva “substitutes” which I do not find pleasant. I once told a doctor it was like having someone else’s lemon flavoured spit in my mouth. It was not like saliva at all but it was a temporary solution, a bit of a fix. There are also numerous other dry mouth products such as discs and lozenges, as well as toothpastes and mouthwashes specifically formulated to help patients cope with the dry mouth symptoms. Sjogren’s patients need to be diligent about oral hygiene and have regular dental cleanings and check-ups. I love my Sonicare electric toothbrush and highly recommend it or another quality electric toothbrush for part of an excellent oral hygiene regimen.

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Oral problems that can occur due to dry mouth include overall oral discomfort (just having a very dry mouth does not feel good), tooth decay, fungal infections, difficulty swallowing dry foods (or even other foods such as lettuce, raw carrots, etc.), difficulty speaking due to tongue and lips sticking, gum disease, bad breath, teeth adhering to cheeks while sleeping, and salivary gland enlargement.

It is important to remember saliva in your mouth is the beginning of the digestive process, vital and not to be taken for granted. If you have lots, celebrate it – swish it around and remind yourself of all the good things it does for you!

NOTE: I appreciate the interest in my Sjogren’s awareness posts and the questions that have come forth over the last couple weeks. Just a reminder, these blog posts are my own experiences and not intended to be a replacement for advice from your own physician or medical specialist. It is also important to remember that symptoms and resulting treatments can vary greatly from patient to patient; that is another reason Sjogren’s Syndrome is so difficult to diagnosis and to treat.