The Not-to-do list for Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Dr Irwin Lim, Rheumatologist

If you have inflammation affecting your joints, and it has been confidently diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis, there are a number of things I think you should not do.

Here’s 6 of these:

  1. Don’t stick your head in the sand.
    • Once the disease is established, it typically does not just go away. I do understand the need to come to terms with a chronic illness. It’s not at all easy but we can’t just wish it away. That’s unlikely to happen.
  2. Don’t procrastinate.
    • It’s clear there’s a ticking watch. The earlier you treat, the better the result for you with a stronger chance of avoiding damage and deformity. We need to treat this nasty disease early.
  3. Don’t just rely on what friends and family tell you.
    • They’re of course trying to help but they may not understand the specifics of the disease affecting you. Please get an expert opinion, and if you are still uncertain or confused, get a 2nd opinion. It’s your body and you need to make educated decisions with doctors you are happy to work with.
  4. Don’t just rely on what you read on blogs and forums.
    • I write a blog, and obviously present one point of view. There are other points of view, written by different people with different motivations. Information on the internet can be extremely useful but you need to be able in some way to filter and process the information, making it relevant to your specific situation.
  5. Don’t just decide to “go natural”.
    • Clear-cut rheumatoid arthritis is not a pleasant disease. It is very well studied, with clear treatment strategies which while not perfect, are on the whole, effective and safe. Trusting the long term health of your body to homeopathic medication, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic therapies, super doses of celery/fish oil/glucosamine/kumin, the paleo diet, etc, etc seems a poor choice with what we know about rheumatoid.
  6. Don’t smoke, don’t put on weight, don’t eat & drink poorly, don’t be a couch potato.
    • Lifestyle does matter so please do give up the smoking. If overweight, weight loss will help. Good nutrition and regular exercise can only benefit you.

Can you think of other things not-to-do?

Dr Irwin Lim is a rheumatologist and a director of BJC Health. You should follow him on twitter here.
BJC Health’s vision is to create best care for people with arthritis. Contact us.
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A New Rheumatology Toy

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By Dr Irwin Lim, Rheumatologist

I’ve been playing with a new iPad app, Adobe Slate, to try and present information in a more engaging way.

Showing off our new toy seemed a good subject. Please check it out and let me know what you think.

Our Rheumatology Toy

Dr Irwin Lim is a rheumatologist and a director of BJC Health. You should follow him on twitter here.
BJC Health’s vision is to create best care for people with arthritis. Contact us.
This blog focuses on arthritis, healthcare in general, and Connected Care. Please subscribe to keep in touch:
 
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ANA + does not = Lupus

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By Dr Irwin Lim, Rheumatologist

I’m giving a talk to some local GPs tonight. My talk’s title is:

“How to interpret a positive ANA? Is it worth measuring?”

A common presentation to rheumatologists involves a person who has had this test, ANA (anti-nuclear antibody) measured. When the result returns positive, it can be quite hard to interpret.

This is due to the test being non-specific. Many people without disease can have a “falsely” positive result.

This test is really only useful if the pre-test chances of the patient having a related disease is reasonably high. In this case, the positive results increases the probability of disease and helps with making a more certain diagnosis.

When the pre-test chance of having the disease is slim, a positive result becomes confusing. It adds a layer of anxiety for patients especially when they search the net regarding the ANA. What the person will invariably read about will be lupus.

Many patients who see me with a positive ANA don’t have lupus or any other related disease. In these cases, it may be an incidental finding and my job is to reassure them and reduce anxiety.

I usually draw to help them understand. I added these diagrams to my talk tonight but I thought I’d share them.

ANA1

 

There are many people walking around with a positive ANA. The X represents the patient sitting in front of me with the incidental finding of a positive ANA.

ANA2

Some people with a positive ANA will have symptoms related to the ANA. A smaller number of these will actually have enough features to make a diagnosis of a classifiable disease.

ANA3

Yes, some people with a positive ANA may in time develop symptoms related to it, and some may indeed develop an autoimmune disease related to the ANA, but this is the minority. Even if it does develop, it may take many, many years with the important point that people should just lead normal lives and not worry excessively about a positive blood test.

I hope these drawings in some way help me convey the message.

What do you think?

Dr Irwin Lim is a rheumatologist and a director of BJC Health. You should follow him on twitter here.
Arthritis requires an integrated approach. We call this, Connected Care. Contact us.
This blog focuses on arthritis, healthcare in general, and Connected Care. Please subscribe to keep in touch:
 
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Can patient & rheumatologist agree on the target?

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By Dr Irwin Lim, Rheumatologist

Treat-to-target is a term bandied around a lot in rheumatology circles.

I’ve written about some issues when dealing with targets which aren’t necessarily that well defined or easy to achieve (read here).

I listened to a talk on the weekend on patient reported outcomes and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this cartoon while it was on screen.

Different targets

It nicely highlights that what patients want to achieve with treatment may not always be what the doctor seeks to achieve. The 2 groups sometimes speak different language.

Or they’ve missed the important step of negotiating and communicating shared goals.

I’m often guilty of launching into the rationale for my treatment plan:

“We need to do X so that we can achieve Y”

The cartoon reminds me to also be more explicit in asking the patient in front of me:

What’s your goal?

What do you want to get out of the treatment of your problem?

It seems pretty evident that agreeing to shared treatment goals would improve patient-Dr relationship and workflow.

It might even improve patient compliance. It will likely improve the effectiveness of the doctor.

Does your doctor ask you what your targets are?

Dr Irwin Lim is a rheumatologist and a director of BJC Health. You should follow him on twitter here.
Arthritis requires an integrated approach. We call this, Connected Care. Contact us.
This blog focuses on arthritis, healthcare in general, and Connected Care. Please subscribe to keep in touch:
 
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An afternoon of rheumatology with GP registrars

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Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Dr Irwin Lim, Rheumatologist

Yesterday afternoon, I had the opportunity to speak to 70 General Practice registrars (trainee-GPs) at the Wentwest training facility in Blacktown, a hub in Western Sydney.

It was the post-lunch session. I had 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The brief – An update in Rheumatology.

1 hour and 45 minutes is not enough to update all of Rheumatology.

To fight post-prandial sleepiness and to improve the chance of my messages sticking, I chose a case-based format and prepared 4 patient-based presentations to try and stimulate discussion.

I was relying on discussion, so I coaxed and badgered.

Case 1: Male generation-X’er presenting with a swollen ankle and big toe.

Easy case of gout but what I wanted to highlight was the process of differentiating a mechanical/degenerative cause from an inflammatory cause for arthritis.

What bits of the history help? What should GPs be looking for in the examination to help them work out possible causes? How do we make educated guesses about the probabilities of various diagnoses?

We also had to discuss how to and how NOT to use allopurinol and colchicine, common medications commonly poorly instituted.

Case 2: Older, middle-aged female with swelling in her “knuckles” and wrists, with some symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Straight-forward case of rheumatoid arthritis. It was nice to hear how the GP registrars approached appropriate investigation. As always, the topic of Methotrexate was brought up and we addressed the common problem of patient reluctance to take this medication.

Not unsurprisingly, the GP registrars knowledge of disease-modifying drugs (DMARD) was not extensive. At least, some had heard about biologic DMARDs although none had actually been involved in the care of a patient on a biologic DMARD.

Pleasingly, there were doctors in the room aware of the need for early treatment and the concept of the window-of-opportunity. I took the chance to hammer than nail a few more times.

Case 3: Male baby boomer presenting with years of tender joints, various tendon problems, a stiff back and not much to see in terms of swelling at the joints.

Made the point that those non-so-subtle nail changes might be helpful. As well as the patch of scaly skin on the scalp.

A case of psoriatic arthritis. A frustrating disease, with the diagnosis so often delayed. We discussed why rheumatic disease diagnoses and treatments are so often delayed.

We discussed advances in understanding how the disease develops, we discussed the difficulties with the labels we currently use for diseases and how many autoimmune diseases can be difficult to work out, confusing and frustrating patients and doctors.

Case 4 was to be about chronic back pain. Many GPs don’t enjoy treating this.

We didn’t get to case 4 due to the level of discussion.

And while it was my voice mainly, there were enough questions and comments, and feedback to make me feel it was a worthwhile session.

Dr Irwin Lim is a rheumatologist and a director of BJC Health. You should follow him on twitter here.
Arthritis requires an integrated approach. We call this, Connected Care. Contact us.
This blog focuses on arthritis, healthcare in general, and Connected Care. Please subscribe to keep in touch:
 
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