A Presumptive Diagnosis

Aside

The marrying of Evidence-based medicine and Experience-based medicine.

Have you ever sat in a Dr’s surgery, told the Dr everything about your signs and symptoms, and then you hear those fated word:

“WELL IN MY EXPERIENCE”

Many years ago, we trusted Dr’s to use their experience to know what was wrong with us.  These days, we can now have blood tests, scans, x-rays and more, to back up that experience.

Some Dr’s are single (they only use Evidence, or they only use Experience.  Some Dr’s have successfully married the two.  Others are in a relationship, but is very shaky and they have to work hard to keep the relationship on an even keel.

If your Dr is a “in my experience” type Dr you need to remind them that actually Doc, it’s not just about your experience, it’s also about your skills to interpret results of blood tests, scans, images, or any other investigation, to build a full picture.  Its about your ability to keep an open mind, your realisation that not every blocked nose is a cold, that every high BP is from poor diet and lack of exercise.

You might have had Jane Doe in here with a blocked nose that was hay fever last week.  But I don’t get hay fever, my nose is not normally blocked like this, and it is giving me a major headache.

If ever a Dr says to you “Well in my experience” and they have never met you before, then there experience could mean diddlysquat, if it not balanced with correct interpretation from clinical investigations, blood tests, x-rays, scans, or what ever else needs to be done before a confirmed diagnosis is made..

Dr’s must learn to park their experience at the door when they first come into the room to see a new patient because their experience, however vast, can mean a missed diagnosis, a wrong presumption, the brushing aside of what appears a “minor abnormality” which can be a major cause, or the vital clue to the true condition.

 Let me give you an example.

As those who have read my blog know, my husband Derek has Antiphospholipid Syndrome.  It means his blood is more susceptible to clotting.  To prevent this happening he takes Warfarin.

In May 2012 the Dr’s stopped his warfarin for 5 days without any anticoagulation cover.  We, at this time, trusted Dr’s to know what they were doing.

The day of the biopsy he felt “unwell”, the day after his biopsy he was seriously sick.

Enter the Presumptive Dr.  Experience based diagnosis and treatment began.  In the experience of all the Drs we dealt with, on balance of presumption, he had Sepsis.

Immediately treating that sepsis was the right option.  However, they still had to make sure it was sepsis, not just use their experience and accept it.

After giving the high dose anitbiotics, what they did was ignore the facts as presented.  When we spoke to each Dr we told them:

  • Derek had not had warfarin for 5 days (and was still not taking it)
  • Derek had a blood clotting disorder which, without warfarin, meant he had a high risk of clotting
  • He felt unwell at the time of the biopsy

The Evidence Based Medicine did not support a diagnosis of sepsis, especially when you add the signs and symptoms together.   The clinical evidence showed no sign of infection based on a number of blood tests.  The blood tests only showed his body was fighting inflammation which is a classic sigh of an APS flair, or CAPS.  They could not identify any bacteria or any of the many signs, only an indication of inflammation.

Yet because sepsis was the obvious diagnosis based on experience, no other investigation even was done when the evidence didn’t support it.  It was put down to just one of those things.

In Sept 2012 the same thing happened.  Between 2 and 16 Oct we visited many Drs, telling them all the same story.  He had stopped warfarin for 5 days, then had prostate surgery, and  had been unwell the entire time.

All that was heard was Warfarin and prostate surgery.  Clearly he had some form of infection, firstly a UTI, then a reaction to antibiotics, then a throat infection, another reaction to medication, a kidney infection……. Infection, infection, infection.  Never did he have a blood test. All the diagnoses were experience based presumptions, without evidence.  2 tests were done during the week, one throat swab and one swab of a rash.  Both these came back clear.  No one listened to the real symptoms and none of the Dr’s put all the symptoms together.  Just because there was symptoms 1 yesterday, didn’t mean it should be ignore when symptom 2 happened.  In the 2 weeks from 2 to 16 October, Derek only had 1 blood test.  Nobody queried his history of cessation of warfarin and the history of blood clots.  We told of a history of his INR going high above range, then a bleeding event in the previous 2 weeks.  All were ignored because those we spoke to had no experience with those, so they couldn’t comment.

This is where experience based medication falls down.  To use experience, the Dr must first have experience.  Because it was rare, they did not.

On 16 Oct Derek was finally admitted to hospital  He had had blood tests on the Friday which when finally looked at 4 days later, and were all way out of range.

He was rushed to hospital via ambulance, but still his own Dr, knowing his history, told the Ambulance officers that it was suspected sepsis.

On the morning of 17 Oct he had a CT.

This CT showed a small pocket of pneumonia and an accumulation of fluid around the lungs.

What was also mentioned on the CT report was what “has the appearance of a clot, and the left adrenal gland appears enlarged”.

These two findings were ignored as insignificant compared to the fluid around the lungs, and the presumption that he again had Sepsis.

For 6 days they ignored the history of APS, cessation of warfarin, and the findings on the CT and instead treated him (unsuccessfully) for sepsis.  No matter the treatment, his body continued shutting down.

It wasn’t until a junior Dr visited Derek.  Having left all presumptions at the door, she started from scratch.  She asked questions, studied his body, all the time taking note.  She then went and read the reports.  Including the report from 17 Oct.  It was only then, because a Dr threw all presumptions of the previous 2 weeks, out the window, that the true catastrophe revealed itself.

I am not saying that immediate treatment for sepsis wasn’t a good idea, but when they didn’t find any evidence of it, then they should have kept looking.

Yes, treat the easiest condition first, but consider other options, including, if all else proves negative, that zebra hiding in the dark corner.

“In my experience”

If the Dr says this to you and you have never met him/her before, point out that any experience they had before facing you, although useful, needs to be successfully married to evidence, and they need to have experience of using that evidence.

What you are looking for from them is their training and knowledge in interpreting investigations, with an open mind to the possibility that they have never experienced YOUR particular circumstances before.

Experience is great once they know what is wrong, but making a presumption based more on their experience than on fact, can leave many people remaining undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, untreated or feeling sicker than before.  When it happens time and time again, some patients just feel like giving up.

It can be hard to be taken seriously when you have to go from Dr to Dr because you KNOW there is something wrong, and all you get is Presumptive diagnoses, the treatment for which, is clearly not working.

It is hard to advocate for yourself, but if you are able to, when the Dr seems to be diagnosing you based on HIS/HER experience, not yours, ask them what they are basing their diagnosis on.  Get them to explain how they came to that decision.  Ask what evidence they have.

It can be hard, but if asked in the right way, and if necessary asking the same question in several different ways, it can make the Dr rethink their own ideas.  Sometimes however, the Experience and the Evidence are divorced. They will never live happily together with the Dr, and at this time, you need to find another Dr.

International Travel with a Chronic Illness

leaving-on-an-aircraft

Our Next Adventure Part 1

Having managed tripping up and down the North Island of New Zealand over the last 4 years, including flying, just to see how it would go, Derek and I want to venture a little further.

The Practice

To begin our preparation for an international flight, the first thing we did was try flying to Auckland.

It required a trip to the Airport, then flying to Auckland, and driving to Hamilton.

Derek took extra medication to fly.  He took extra hydrocortisone for the drive to Hamilton from Auckland.  He then lay down for a long rest when we got to Hamilton.  He also had to rest the next day, but that is normal when we travel any kind of distance.

On the whole, the trip was good.  We listened to others’ advice, had learned what Derek could manage, and when he needed to up dose.

Flying Further

This time we decided to go to Australia.  Originally our first trip overseas was going to be to Sydney or Melbourne for a weekend for a Show. After being offered a trip to Fiji earlier this year, and the realisation that a 2 day trip would be way too hard, we thought a longer trip would be better.  Because a friend with Addison’s was heading from Hong Kong to Brisbane for medical treatment, and we had friends in Brisbane, that was going to be our destination.

We are not the first to travel with chronic illness, and we won’t be the last.  When you look around the cue of people going to the flight, you don’t know who has a chronic illness, who has spent days and weeks preparing, and who has just grabbed a ticket and headed to the airport.

I asked my cousin, who’s husband has several serious medical issues, what they do to take a trip.

Trev just sorts all his medication and I just carry it…never had any problems, I think I have only been asked once and they were good about it. I never carry hospital documents but for you guys being a first since Derek has been sick, just get your GP to write a letter out lining the diagnosis and a list of the medications on the letter. Never really had problems with insurance just be up front about it all, you may not get full cover but shop around. We don`t stress about overseas travel, there is always a hospital where you go if things don`t go to plan. Just relax and enjoy the trip. We are probably not a good example…as we are pretty relaxed about it and just roll with it…lol…isn`t that naughty, but thats just us…great place we have just come back from there.

The trip they had returned from was a trip to celebrate 25 years since “Trev” had an organ transplant.  (By the way, I am totally in favour of organ transplants.  It saves lives, including that of my cousin’s husband so please think about donating organs if the unfortunate need should arise).

Booking the ticket.

We have made the decision to travel over to Australia.

Now What?

Do we need to get permission from the Dr?

We don’t believe so because we went to see her about going to Fiji with a work trip for Derek, and she said no, because of the risk of food poisoning, the possible need for INR while there, and the short time frame.

But she said that if we wanted to travel somewhere else, like Australia or England, then yes, she would make sure we could do it.

We bought the tickets. tickets

When I booked it, I also requested a wheelchair at both ends.  That meant an alert on the ticket booking, and I had to call a number, and speak to someone.

The flight is a Partner flight, which means we are booking through one airline, but the flight is provided through another, so there was a delay while the confirmed that the wheelchair was available.

We knew from experience going places with Derek he could not stand in line long.  He gets very fatigued just waiting at the supermarket, and if there are more than 2 in a line, he has to sit while we wait.

Then there is the timing of the flight.  We could fly out at 11am.  That would mean Derek could wake up as normal, and we could take our time.  But that also meant 9-12 hours flying as we would have to fly from Wellington to Auckland, wait for 2 or more hours, then fly to Brisbane.  We would arrive at night, and it would be a very long day.

That would take more out of him.

Alternatively we could fly out from Wellington at 7am.  And then fly for 4 hours, directly to Brisbane, and land at 8am Brisbane time.

This meant a lot less travel time, but a very early morning.  Derek normally wakes at 6am, takes his first round of HC, then goes back to sleep for an hour while he waits for his meds to kick in.

This trip would mean waking him at 4am to take his first round of HC, Drive to the airport, have breakfast, then check through Customs. (hopefully we haven’t got any fines that hold us back).

So next we book an appointment with the Dr.  We need:

  • A letter for treatment protocol (if he suffers an Adrenal Crisis)
  • A letter confirming he is able to fly (because of Antiphospholipid Syndrome and risk of DVT)
  • A list of medication (it needs to be declared at every port entry and exit).
  • Any meds he may run low on before he leaves, or soon after he gets back.
  • We also need to organise an INR when we land in Australia. This is the bit we are unsure of, but the essential bit to make sure it hasn’t dropped too low while flying, which could mean a blood clot.

Then there is Travel Insurance.

Normally you just buy it when you buy your tickets.  All you need for Australia is cover so if you get waylaid, you can get a change of ticket.  But if you have extra conditions, you need to tell them about them.  Then the cost goes way up.  It went up by $150 for Derek.

But we don’t know if we have declared everything as they didn’t have the ability to declare the catastrophic event he had.  And I hadn’t declared his prostate cancer.  Oh well, looks like a phone call.

I got two quotes.  So we needed to call both companies to see how things would change.

After a long phone call to each company, Derek’s insurance was going to cost $6 extra for the prostate cancer which is in remission.

Medication

Emergency Kit

The Take Every Where Kit

We would need a list to make sure we took everything.   It currently sat in multiple areas of the house.  We also needed to make sure it all had a proper prescription labels.

When my friend Wendy travelled from Hong Kong to Australia I told her to declare, declare, declare.  If she declared everything she would be fine.

I was going to work on the same principle.  But that is not the case for Derek as he takes DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone).  It is classed as an anabolic steroid, and therefore restricted.  Derek needs a licence to carry it into Australia, even as a prescription medication.

And one of his other medications needs authority to carry it out of New Zealand and then back into the country.

So, we have a Dr’s note x 2, we have an emergency letter, we have an application to take his medication into Australia.

We can only carry a month’s supply in and out of New Zealand but that’s fine because we are only away 6 days.

We have to wait to hear from the Dr regarding whether he needs 1 more medication for the trip, but otherwise, we have things ticked off that we need.

Getting all the advice is key to a successful trip.  So I went seeking advice.

Travel Advice from the Experts

The Addison’s Disease Self Help Group UK has some great advice:

  • Good general advice for long distance air travel includes:
  • Remember that air travel is dehydrating so you will need to drink more fluids than usual in the air. Drink alcohol, cola drinks, coffee and tea sparingly as these dehydrate the body further. If possible, carry a large bottle of water in your hand luggage. If you forget to bring your own water, be assertive about requesting extra refreshments from the cabin crew.
  • Walk around the plane as much as possible. Try to get up out of your seat every two hours to stretch your legs and keep the blood flowing.
  • Many chemist shops now stock knee-length support socks, which can help prevent the formation of blood clots that might lead to a deep-vein thrombosis (‘stroke’).
  • Adjust your watch to the time of your destination as the flight begins, and adjust your in-flight activities to that new time zone as well. Sleep through the in-flight meals, if necessary, to get attuned to the new time zone.
  • Try to book flights that allow you to arrive at your destination in the late afternoon or early evening local time, so that you get a night’s sleep at the end of your travelling. Flights which arrive in the early morning local time will leave you tired after travelling but having to stay up all the day before you get a proper night’s sleep.

So we missed the last one.

But we are going to stay at the house of an Addisonian, so they will know that Derek will be going to have a sleep when he arrives.

So everything we can think of is ticked off.  Now to wait.

Now to wait for the actual trip.

We are excited about the trip.  We have thought of all the possible issues, and taken care of everything we can.  Derek isn’t being wrapped in bubble wrap, but we are reducing the risk as much as possible without saying, “too hard, not going.”

Next Chapter – The trip.

I am hoping this will be a very dull chapter with just the excitement of having the Sunday lunch with other addisonian’s, and enjoying visiting somewhere I have never been.  I won’t apologise if my after trip post is boring, as that would be the best trip ever.

 

 

 

WHY DR’S CAN GET IT WRONG!

I am a desk top publisher.  I have used various desk top publishing tools from Aldus Pagemaker in the early 80’s  to CS InDesign of the 2010 plus era.

I have created everything from A4 single page leaflets, to a 600 page, multi chapter Scientific document.

I understand more than some, how these larger documents are put together.  When you have 2000 pages of information, written by 90 different contributors, across 5 different countries, and multiple regions and states within those countries this book must be constructed in a particular way.

So why is this important to my readers?

In my last blog, I briefly mentioned medical books can and will have out outdated study data when published.

In this blog post I am going to expand on that, and explain why we must all be aware of the implications of this.

When a large Cohort of people have input into a Text book on a particular topic, you will get differing opinions.  When that book looks not just at a Broad topic, but then drills down into each sub-topic, it must be created by Section and Chapter.

Each Chapter is co-authored, then all chapters are put together at a publishing office to be produced in book form.  This can, and does, lead to conflicting information in the book, if not carefully checked by someone who understands the different chapters.

In this case I am talking about Williams Textbook of Endocrinology.

Why this book in particular?

Williams Textbook of Endocrinology claims, in their own words:

“In this new edition we have strived to maintain Robert Williams’ original 1950 mandate to publish “a condensed and authoritative discussion of the management of clinical endocrinopathies based upon the application of fundamental information obtained from chemical and physiological investigation.”……..
With these goals in mind, we have once again assembled a team of outstanding authorities in the field who each contribute their unique expertise in the synthesis of current knowledge for each area.”

This is THE book that Endocrinologists go to for information.

But what happens when this book has failings?

Well, we in the Forums see the results of that every day.

I am only going to look at two chapters.  I do not know the authors of these chapters, and I am not calling in to question their ability to read, and interpret their referenced material, or their knowledge of the Endocrine system.

What I am calling into question is the ability of such an important publication, to make sure that their information is up to date, accurate, and most importantly, consistent across chapters.

What led me here?

Quite simply, a comment from Derek.

We don’t go randomly into anything where his Adrenal Insufficiency, Antiphospholipid Syndrome, his Dysphagia, or any other conditions are concerned.  We read, we research, we look at multiple published and peer reviewed studies on the subject.

In doing this, we have been able to stablise Derek’s condition and get him the best Quality of Life possible for him personally.  This is not as good as some, but not as bad as others.  This is because his limitations are different to everyone else.  There are no two people with exactly the same concomitant conditions and therefore, there is no one size fits all solution to treatment.

We have found a number of things when it comes to Adrenal Insufficiency.

  • A lot of “studies” are in fact people that have read other studies, and are giving their opinion on them by pulling them together and writing their interpretation.
  • There is not a large amount of new information out there.
  • Some of the new studies are looking at medical files, relying on Dr’s writing accurate notes (which many with AI have found to be inaccurate) and very few are actually talking to a large cohort of patients.
  • Many tests on cortisol replacement are conducted on healthy subjects (or on a very small cohort (10-50) of AI sufferers, then applied to those with AI trying to mimic what happens in healthy people, not what happens in the chronically ill.

While researching something one night Derek found a snapshot of Chapter 15 from Williams Textbook of Endocrinology.  He started reading it and found it so interesting that he was talking about getting hold of a copy of the whole book.  It was over $200 NZ for an eCopy.  Unfortunately, while reading it he came to the end of the available snapshot before he could finish what was being said.

He asked me if I had ever found reference to, or knew of this book.  I hadn’t, so I started searching for it.  I found the whole book, available for a limited time (the website would allow you to read it or X number of days), via an eBook.  So I started looking up the information he was wanting.

What happened is that I found a different chapter to him, and found what I thought was the information he was searching for.

The problem with that was, the information I found, was different to what he was sure he had read.  But how could that be.  Surely, when talking about the same condition, the recommended treatment would be consistent across all chapters.

I am not talking about just the same subject, I am talking about the exact same condition of Adrenal Insufficiency, or your body being unable to produce it’s own Cortisol.

In this case, Long-Term Replacement Therapy vs Adrenal Steroid Replacement.  They were different names, for the same information, that is Cortisol replacement for Adrenal Insufficiency (both primary and secondary).

OK you say, different names, nothing wrong there, the information will still be the same.

But it wasn’t!  What I found, contridicted what Derek had found.  But we were looking at the same edition of the same book, just different chapters.

There were two different theories on adequate timing and amount of replacement.

Here is where it affects those with AI

Most of those in the Forums, are taking either 2 or 3 doses of Hydrocortisone a day.

For many, this is what they were told when they started Hydrocortisone.  Some of these people have been on the same dosing regime for over 50 years.  It has never changed, it has never been considered they could change.

And this is still what they are being told.  The amount and dosing schedule you are given, is dependant on the Dr that diagnoses you and his knowledge, or where he reads about the recommended dosing schedule.

Depending on which chapter the Dr reads the “Gold Standard” is either 2 doses a day or 3 doses a day.  The amount will vary from 15mg/day as adequate, 20mg/day, and no more, or some are given a range from 15-25mg/day which they can work within.

The 1 consistency is that 30mg/day is considered too much for the average person with AI.

So where are these Dr’s getting their information, that it can vary so much.

Most likely it is all coming from the same book.  But it will depend on which Chapter of Williams Textbook of Endocrinology the Dr is reading.  And also, whether he is reading the text, or looking at the Tables.

Let me show you.

WILLIAMS TEXTBOOK OF ENDOCRINOLOGY, 13TH EDITION Copyright © 2016 by Elsevier, Inc.

CHAPTER 8 Pituitary Physiology and Diagnostic Evaluation
SECTION II Hypothalamus and Pituitary

Adrenal Steroid Replacement

Hydrocortisone is widely used for glucocorticoid replacement. The normal secretory rate of cortisol is 15 to 20 mg/ day, which is the recommended total daily dose. As plasma circulating half-life of cortisol is less than 2 hours, three times daily dosing of a total daily requirement of 10 to 20 mg (5-10 mg in the morning, 2.5-5 mg at noon, and 2.5-5 mg in the evening) is recommended.

Reference:  Howlett TA. An assessment of optimal hydrocortisone replacement therapy. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1997;46:263-268.

Where is the problem.  It recommends 3 times a day replacement.

However……….

CHAPTER 15 The Adrenal Cortex
SECTION IV Adrenal Cortex and Endocrine Hypertension

The aim of long-term therapy is to give replacement doses of hydrocortisone to mimic the normal cortisol secretion rate (Table 15-21). ………

Reference:  Howlett TA. An assessment of optimal hydrocortisone replacement therapy. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1997;46:263-268.
Doses are usually given on awakening, with a smaller dose at 6 PM, but some patients feel better with three-times-a day dosing. In cases of primary adrenal failure, cortisol day curves with simultaneous ACTH measurements are advocated to provide some insight into the adequacy of replacement therapy.

Note the paragraph above a day curve is advocated.  In the text book they then give a reference for this belief.

Reference:  Arlt W, Rosenthal C, Hahner S, et al. Quality of glucocorticoid replacement in adrenal insufficiency: clinical assessment vs. timed serum cortisol measurements. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2006;64:384-389.

CONCLUSIONS:
Our results suggest that serum cortisol day curves are of limited value in the monitoring of glucocorticoid replacement. Bone mineral density in AI is generally normal and does not require routine follow-up.

The conclusion of the Study referenced  is that it is NOT required, yet the text book advocates it.  Either the reference needs to be removed, or the advocating of the test should be reconsidered.

Then we have Table 15-21

Table 15-21-1
HC Dosing of 15mg am and 10mg pm, or 20mg am, and 5mg pm to a max 25 mg HC per day

So you can see above, depending on where the Dr gets his information i.e., which chapter, depends on the dosing amount and schedule you are given.

One recommends 3 x day but only up to 20mg max, one says “2, but some feel better on 3”.  The table (the easiest thing to look at when you are scanning 1800+ pages of information) states 2 x daily.

So Why the difference in Maintenance Treatment?

Simple, the articles are in two different chapters of the same book, but written or reviewed by 2 different groups, The first was by 1 person from Queensland and 1 from the States (Chapter 8) and the second by 2 people from England (Chapter 15).  It is hard, but not impossible, to ensure the treatment is consistent, however, the distance, and disjointed way such a large publication is created can lead to different opinions and the inconsistencies.

If I was a Dr dealing with a patient with a Pituitary issue, I would possibly read SECTION II Hypothalamus and Pituitary; Adrenal Steroid Replacement.

Having read that, I would not then feel a need to go to SECTION IV Adrenal Cortex and Endocrine Hypertension; Long-Term Replacement Therapy to see that the replacement there was different.  And if I did, what would I do?  2 or 3 doses a day?  I certainly wouldn’t follow the references to read and make a decision for myself.  I have 15 other patients to see that day.  I will take the first answer I come across.

After all, this is the Expert Go To document to see what is needed.  These specialists have already done the hard work.  As the Dr, I have to read what I need to read.

But where does that leave the patient.  Normally on a dose that doesn’t necessarily work for them, and in most cases, without any real cortisol cover for many hours of the day.

If you take a large dose in the morning, the half life is still the same, <2 hours.  By the end of 4 hours, you are still having a dip.

The other problem is, much of the reference material is at least 15 years old, having been written in the 1990s.  There is more recent research but instead of removing the old research, the just add to it, to increase the confusion for anyone who actually looks deeper into it.

And then there’s the Emergency Injection

Now a quick one about carrying your emergency shot.  This same document, under Section IV; Adrenal Cortex and Endocrine Hypertension it very clearly states :

Parenteral preparations of hydrocortisone for self-administration may be required for patients living far from hospitals and those planning vacations.

Hence we have had death, and permanent impairment of patients who “live close to a hospital” who are being refused their emergency injection.

Many are refused their emergency injection based on that 1 paragraph, out of a book of 1900 pages.

Changes over the years.

After seeing all of this, I decided to see what had changed in the last 13 years, in the treatment of Adrenal Insufficiency.  I have managed to access  a copy of the 10th Edition, published in 2003.  In comparing word for word, what is said about Long-Term Replacement Therapy there have been changes is wording, but not meaning, of a few paragraphs, and 4 paragraphs added near the end.

The changes in wording is of no importance as it didn’t change the context.  However, in at least 13 years (I couldn’t get an earlier copy on line) these are the actual changes to treatment:

Added:

Progesterone is a mineralocorticoid antagonist, and the rising levels across pregnancy may necessitate an increased dose of fludrocortisone.

Added:

Patients should receive regular education regarding the requirements of stress-related glucocorticoid dose adjustment, which should involve the patient’s partner and family as well. Parenteral preparations of hydrocortisone for self-administration may be required for patients living far from hospitals and those planning vacations.  (Italicised has not changed.)

Added:

However, patients with adrenal insufficiency on current steroid replacement regimens have significantly impaired health-related subjective health status irrespective of the origin of disease or concomitant disease.

Very last paragraph as if added as an after- thought as reference was published at the end of 2014

Added:

Delayed-release hydrocortisone preparations, such as Plenadren, that more closely replicate normal circadian cortisol concentrations, have recently been licensed and approved; early clinical trials show improved quality of life in both primary and central hypoadrenalism compared to conventional twice- or thrice-daily hydrocortisone administration.

Very little has changed, including the table stating twice daily dosing in the Adrenal Cortex section of the endocrine Text Book.  That is 13 years and we know that one of those statements is wrong.  ALL those suffering AI SHOULD BE GIVEN THE EMERGENCY INJECTION!

This is Critical to the survival of an Adrenal Insufficiency patient.

So where to from here?

A well worded letter to the people that wrote SECTION IV Adrenal Cortex and Endocrine Hypertension; Long-Term Replacement Therapy with a request that they urgently update their information, and issue everyone with that update, to ensure the safety of patients with Adrenal Insufficiency is paramount, and that assumptions of competence on the part of their over worked, time poor medical practitioners, is corrected to take into account a of lack of knowledge by the Endocrinologist who, never having had an AI patient before, just treat one.

Also Endocrinologists must be given consistent information no matter where in their Bible they look (or where on the Internet if needs must).

Low Cortisol or an Adrenal Crisis – Learning the difference

(Low Cortisol or an Adrenal Crisis – PDF of this blog.)

CHECK OUT THE NEW PERSPECTIVE ON THIS POST HERE

Many with Addison’s Disease, especially in the early years after diagnosis, don’t have a clear understanding of what an Adrenal Crisis is­.

Some are very sick and believe it can be treated at home, others are low on cortisol and believe they urgently need Emergency Department treatments.  It can be very hard to tell the difference at times.

Then we have the Dr’s view, based on books, not on experience, which is, don’t know so won’t treat.

THE FACTS:

  1. Low Cortisol WILL lead to an Adrenal Crisis, if not dealt with;
  2. Adrenal Crisis DOES need Emergency Medical Treatment;
  3. Adrenal Crisis WILL lead to Death (or worse) if not treated urgently and correctly;
  4. Dr’s DO cause Adrenal Crisis’ because they don’t know, or don’t listen to their patients.

I am guessing the first thing you are asking is “What is worse than Death?”

Quite simply it’s Permanent Brain Damage, Permanent Heart Damage, Permanent disability.  Severe damage to other organs, and in many cases if you survive, PTSD.

An Adrenal Crisis can come on rapidly, or it can come on because you haven’t controlled the symptoms of low cortisol.  It may be because you have an infection and don’t know. There are many reasons for cortisol being used up quickly in your body.  Some of them obvious, some not so.

If you suffer a Genuine Adrenal Crisis and don’t get appropriate treatment fast, the ultimate outcome will be death.

Those with Adrenal Insufficiency and just as importantly, those who live with someone with Adrenal Insufficiency (Addison’s Disease) need to learn the difference in symptoms. And it isn’t something you can learn from a book because we are not all modelled on a book.  We are all human, with different functioning ability in our body.

It is also hard because there is a point when symptoms of low cortisol and an impending adrenal crisis meet.

And it is these symptoms that cause confusion.  If you can treat them by taking extra cortisol, then it is low cortisol.  If you can’t resolve the symptoms with oral medication, then it is the beginnings of a crisis.

Low Cortisol or Adrenal Crisis

From Low Cortisol to Adrenal Crisis

Click the image to see how the symptoms can present, and how they meet as you move from low cortisol to crisis. Most of these symptoms are not “in the book” as an adrenal crisis, and are not considered by many Dr’s as important enough to treat by bumping (updosing).

We all hear that if you have a major trauma, or vomit several times, or have a high temperature, inject.  If you have to inject, go to hospital.

But what about those symptoms in Blue above?  Should you be taking extra HC if you feel all or any of these symptoms.  Some of them occur every day for some people.   Other’s never experience them.

It’s always a guessing game.  Do you Up Dose, Stress Dose, or Inject and race to hospital.  What are these options?

Updosing:

To Updose is what Derek does when we are going out.  He will also do it if he is doing something more than normal around the house.  Perhaps he is going to help me do a little gardening or we are going to a Show, or out to Dinner.  Or if he begins to feel a certain sort of tired.  And here is the other problem.  How do we know if he is just tired because he has done more than normal, or tired because he is low on cortisol.

There is no hard and fast rule.  He had to learn to listen to his body.  We know that when he is tired, he gets sore hips or starts yawning in a certain way.  These are his first symptoms of low cortisol but it doesn’t mean he has to up dose.  It may just mean he needs to sit and rest.

The biggest clue for Derek is if he can’t keep his eyes open, he feels weak, or he gets a mild gas he can’t shift.  When this happens he will take an extra 2.5-5 mg of Hydrocortisone.  He will then lay down to rest and the symptoms will normally resolve themselves.

If he suffers more painful gas under the ribs, has gas that doesn’t ease on burping, has a headache and feels “blah”, he will “Stress dose”.  He will take 10-20 mg Hydrocortisone in one hit.  He will also then try to get to a Dr within 24 hours to find out why he is that low.

I has taken almost 4 years to learn the difference between all his symptoms, and how to respond to each.

When new to Adrenal Insufficiency we asked each of Derek’s treating Dr’s, including his Endocrinologist, if the symptoms he had were AI related.    The immediate response was no because it isn’t in the “book” as a symptom.

There is a belief within the medical community that If it’s not “in the book”, then it can’t be a symptom! In fact, you will not find any mention in medical books, about the concept of Updosing for minor stressors, or needing to take an extra 5 mg if you are going out somewhere.  Yet those that do updose, have less need to Stress Dose or inject.  That’s not to say the don’t do the latter two, they just appear to manage their illness a little better.

A good example of the need to updose to prevent the need to stress dose occurred recently.  We went to a quiz evening at a pub.  It takes 2 hours, and technically is a lot of stress free fun.  Derek has been twice now.  The first time he took 5 mg HC (2.5 mg more than normal) before going.  The second night he didn’t.

By the end of the second night you could see he was suffering from low cortisol.  He found it hard to move, was very stiff and sore in the hips, he was burping more than he should, his speech was quiet, and not “normal”, he was finding it hard to think clearly and he just wanted to go to sleep.  By the time we got home it was all he could do to get into bed.

According to the books, and many Dr’s, there is no need to take extra for these types of activities.

The next morning he woke and was very sluggish.  He found getting out of bed very hard and was not sure he would be able to work, but knew he had to.  He had to push himself all day.

The result of not taking an extra 2.5 mg for the non stressful quiz, was several days of being sluggish, with no energy and feeling ill . That 2.5 mg, although small in relative terms of his daily dose, would have been enough to make it a fun night, and be able to function the next day.  Not taking it meant he had to take things very easy work wise on Friday, and do nothing Saturday.  If it had been earlier in the week, but the end of the week he would have been stress dosing rather than updosing.

Stress Dosing

Stress dosing is something that IS in the books.  But it is not normally recommended until after you need it.  The problem with that is, sometimes it is too late.

When Derek gets really bad gas that won’t shift, we know it is a good sign that something is wrong.  After listening to the Dr’s, and ignoring it, and Derek ending up in Crisis in Hospital, we now take note of it.

This is when he will Stress Dose.  He will take 10-20 mg in one hit.  We will also either get an urgent appointment with his Dr, or I will take him to an after hours medical center, to get him checked over.  He normally has an infection.  He then continues with stress dosing for several days while most likely on antibiotics.

This gas, which the Dr’s have told him is NOT a symptom of an impending crisis, was the ONLY symptom he had before his last crisis.  It’s not in the books, therefore it isn’t real, but they can’t explain why ignoring it leads to a crisis.

When Derek went into Crisis in 2014 his Endocrinologist said he didn’t understand why the crisis happened.  Simply, we followed his advice and did as he said.  We don’t make that mistake now.

Once you get to this point, your meds may stop working because your stomach becomes upset, and you stop absorbing your them.  You are now on the steep slippery slope to full blown crisis.

Adrenal Crisis

If you have a full blown adrenal crisis, INJECT.  Don’t wait until you fit the medical definition of dangerously low blood pressure, unconsciousness, or constant vomiting.
Derek vomited for 1 day when he had his worst crisis, but he was in crisis for a week before they worked out what was wrong.

The Medical books that describe Adrenal Crisis also describe Hypovolmeic shock.

Hypovolemic shock
Hypovolemic shock is an emergency condition in which severe blood or fluid loss makes the heart unable to pump enough blood to the body. This type of shock can cause many organs to stop working.Causes
The amount of circulating blood in your body may drop when you lose too many other body fluids. This can be due to:
• Burns
• Diarrhea
• Excessive perspiration
VomitingSymptoms
Symptoms may include:
• Anxiety or agitation
• Cool, clammy skin
• Confusion
• 
Decreased or no urine output
• General weakness

• Pale skin color (pallor)
Rapid breathing
Sweating, moist skin
• UnconsciousnessThe greater and more rapid the blood loss, the more severe the symptoms of shock.
• Low blood pressure
• Low body temperature
• Rapid pulse, often weak and thread
Acute adrenal crisis
Acute adrenal crisis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when there is not enough cortisol. This is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands.Causes of adrenal crisis include:
• 
Dehydration
• Diarrhea
• 
Infection and other physical stress
• Injury to the adrenal or pituitary gland
• Stopping treatment too suddenly with glucocorticoid medicines
• Surgery
• Trauma (eg Burns)Symptoms
Symptoms and signs of adrenal crisis can include any of the following:
• Abdominal pain or flank pain
• Confusion, loss of consciousness, or coma
• Dehydration
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Fatigue, severe weakness
• Headache
• High fever
• Loss of appetite
• Low blood pressure
• Nausea, vomiting
• Rapid heart rate
• Rapid respiratory rate
• Slow, sluggish movement
• Unusual and excessive sweating on face or palms

Dr’s treat hypovolemic shock as an incredibly serious recognised condition that must by given the highest priority.  Yet Adrenal Crisis, which can have the same symptoms, and same outcome of Death, is frequently ignored.

Many Dr’s, especially in Emergency Departments, have read a book once, a long time ago, about Adrenal Insufficiency.  The problem is, that book takes a long time to become medical education material.  The studies must be done, published, then peer reviewed. It then has to be used when writing “the book” (which can take years), then the book must be published (which can take another couple of years).  Once that has happened, it must be considered, and then accepted, as a good teaching tool.

By the time this has happened, there has already been better research, which is being peer reviewed, and published.  That research then has to wait years for the next “book” to be produced or updated.

The information is already old before it goes in the Book.  And Emergency Department Dr’s don’t read all the latest research when it comes out, if they did, they wouldn’t have time to work, so they skip over the specialist stuff that they were told in medical school they would never encounter.

Because many Dr’s don’t have the latest information, as the patient, you must have it. Join support groups so you can learn what is reliable, and what is old.  Good support groups keep abreast of all new information and medical knowledge.  Despite what Dr’s try and tell you, Dr Google can be your friend if used properly.

I have been in an emergency department and seen Dr’s use Google to find out about Derek’s conditions.  Yet some of these same Dr’s repost around the Internet, that great sign below that we have all seen.

If you have the unfortunate pleasure of attending a hospital because you are in an Adrenal Crisis you may be lucky enough to be treated by a Dr that has heard of Adrenal Insufficiency.  Unfortunately many do not get that lucky.  They suffer at the hands of Drs who do not understand a crisis.  Yet they understand shock.  For this reason, you must know the difference between the three dosing styles.

UPDOSE – STRESS DOSE – INJECT

Learn your body’s signs and symptoms, and which option is needed.  And don’t be afraid to use it.

REMEMBER:
Too much one day won’t kill you.
Too little in one day will.

If you’ve updosed, tried drinking something to increase your salt/electrolytes and you still have symptoms, then Stress Dose.  If you take 10-20 mg and after an hour you still have the symptoms (especially the overlapping symptoms) then it is probably time to inject seek medical help.  If you vomit twice and can’t keep medication down, inject and seek help urgently.

IT IS BETTER TO PREVENT A CRISIS,
THAN TREAT A CRISIS.

Dr Google has good research. Use it

Does your Dr have this somewhere?

Sometimes "Google" and the internet have better medical knowledge than your Dr. Don't be afraid to use it, just make sure you use legitimate medical sites.

Show him this one instead!

To Get Bitter or To Get Better?

bitterorbetter

It’s Your Choice.

We are determined that for Derek, we will get Better.  To get Bitter would mean bad health, constant hospital visits, and probably the end of our marriage.

I have been reading back over the medical records of Derek’s Hospital stay, starting with his Diagnosis of Cancer in May 2012.

I have been reading everything with new eyes.  Not the eyes of someone investigating what went wrong.  Not the eyes of someone needing to prove failures in the system but with the eyes of someone who is reading for the first time, what actually happened to Derek.

It is bringing back interesting memories of sitting by his bed being told he is going to die, being told he was the 2nd worst off patient on the cardiac ward and they didn’t know why. As a side note, the worst patient was rushed to ICU an hour after Derek had been told that by the most Senior Dr on the ward.  Four years on it is finally safe to relive what happened without anger, fear, or distress.

Now it is what it is.  We have travelled the road of the mourning process you travel when you suffer a serious loss.  We have both come out the other side.  If you are able to, looking back to see how far you have come can be a good thing.  It’s something everyone should do when they have a major crisis in their lives.  But it must be “safe” to do it.  And for Derek and me now, it is safe.

Over the first 3.5 years I have read the medical notes trying to find specific things.  I missed a lot of what the nurses said in their daily reports.  I missed the real struggle Derek went through, how sick he was, and how bad he still was when he finally left hospital.

He will never be the man he was in 2011.  We have mourned that loss.  Now we are working on what is left. Learning what we can improve, and how we can improve it.  And just as importantly, learning to live with what can’t be improved by learning to work around it.

The biggest challenge was, and still is, trying to make the medical staff understand that we KNOW he won’t get better, but if we don’t know what is wrong, how we can work either with it, or around it.  There is a belief with some professionals that, if it can’t be fixed, you don’t need to know how bad it is, or sometimes even what it is.

The best example for Derek is that I began complaining while Derek was in hospital in 2012 that he had new issues with swallowing.  I told every medical professional we spoke to.   I became a cracked record, repeating the same thing over and over.  But it wasn’t until I got angry with the medical fraternity as a whole in 2015, that they finally did a swallow examination and discovered that he does indeed have dysphagia.  It is reported as mild, but also acknowledged that it will be worse when fatigued, or sick.  The problem is, one of his main symptoms is fatigue.  So we had to know.

It also turned out that the reason he would get throat infections and not know, was because he has no feeling on the left side of his throat.  Now that we do know, we have worked out what foods he can eat when he is feeling good, vs what foods he can’t eat when feeling tired.  It’s not about who’s at fault, or should they have done the investigations earlier.  It’s about keeping Derek safe because when he gets tired he chokes, and now we know why, we can work around it.

bitter or better

Derek and I came to that point where we had a choice.

We went for a second opinion in 2015.  We had ideas of what else we could do to try to improve his QOL.  We also wanted to try and keep him out of hospital.  He has come close a couple of times since 2014, but we have managed to keep him out.

How?  By talking to other sufferers of the condition, following the latest research, and learning to listen to his body.

By being proactive in his care, not leaving it to the medical world to fix or forget.

For 2 years we became like a stuck record on a lot of his symptoms.  The common question was BUT WHAT IS CAUSING IT?  Why did he always choke, why did he get so tired when taking the recommended replacement steroid doses, why did he get sick every time he suffered a fight or flight reaction (an adrenaline rush).  Why was he ending up in Hospital every time he got sick.

We know why he chokes now, we know that the text book answer for replacement steroids 3 times per day (an idea from 1973 which most Endo’s still follow) is wrong.  We know that when you get a fright you get an adrenaline rush.  But it also causes a call on cortisol to bring your body back from the fight or flight.  This is not something the Endo’s tell you when talking about “stress dosing for illness injury”.  We learned by trial and error.  We learned the difference between UP dosing, which is taking a little extra steroid for a one off situation and STRESS Dosing which is in the books and requires 2 or 3 times your daily dose for several days because of serious illness, injury, or stress like a family death.

So we have made changes to his dosing.  We have changed his eating, we have moved to 4 times a day with hydrocortisone, although we are considering 5.  The latest research out of England says maybe 6x/day and no more than 4 hrs apart would be ideal.  We have included DHEA, which is something most Endo’s don’t even consider for men, yet it is the most prevalent pre-hormone produced by the adrenals.

And we are getting on with life.  Medical appointments are now just annual routine follow ups where we tell the Dr’s what Derek is are currently doing, and how it is working.  We tell them what he has tried that hasn’t worked.

Otherwise he is at the GP’s because he is sick.  Sometimes we don’t know what is wrong, we just know that things are not right.

He still has problems.  As I write this he is sick and has been for 5 weeks, with what was for me a simple cold.  It lasted 5 days for me but for him it became a full on chest infection which he still hasn’t recovered from.

If Derek was working in the Office, he would have worked from home for most of that time, but because he was already working from home all week, he has been able to work for most of that time.  If he wasn’t able to work from home, he would have had to take sick leave for 2-3 weeks.

He has to take extra cortisol just so we can go out at night.  This is something not in the books.  It has been learned from trial and error.  The trial being taking it, the error being not taking it and ending up sick for days afterwards.  We have learned that Derek needs to rest the day after we go out, to recover.

He is not the man he was, but looking back on how sick he was 4 years ago and the major insult his body received, we realise how far he has come.

In those 4 years we have both changed and we both understand a lot more about both the medical condition and the lack of knowledge by the medical profession, for what is after all, considered a rare condition.

We have also learned the truth about the bogus condition that attracts all the “natural health professionals” that promote snake oil for Adrenal Fatigue.

We have learned people that inform us that Derek can stop steroids if he takes their snake oil, that the only way to shut them down is to shut them up with scientific fact.

Like anyone with a Chronic Illness Derek has good days, and bad days.  He has days when he can’t get out of bed, he has days when he can do things around the house.  And that’s fine, because after 4 years, that is what we know is the life of the Chronically Ill.

It doesn’t matter the illness.  If you learn about it, you can learn to live with it, and go from being Bitter to being Better.

Please note when I say BETTER, I don’t mean WELL.  I mean learning what your limits are, and learning to manage them so you can be the best your Chronic illness allows you to be.

But What Cost, a Medical Misadventure

When the Medical Side is Under Control

4 years on from Derek twice having his warfarin stopped by a hospital who’s excuse is “Oh, the Dr didn’t realise the importance of bridging” and we have, with very little help from them, managed to get Derek as stable as he will ever be.

 

We have got his Adrenal Insufficiency as under control as it will ever be.  We have worked out through experiement, what dosing works for him (and it’s not what they say in the books).  We have added other replacement medication (DHEA, Vit D) which is helping.  We are learning the symptoms of low cortisol.  We should have learned, we see them frequently.  Derek updoses as he needs, which is different to stress dosing when sick, and how to stress dose (double or triple HC) when he IS sick.

He is being driven to work, although he works mostly from home at the moment.

But what is the unseen cost of the medical fraturnity almost killing him?

It’s the costs they don’t compensate you for.  It’s the cost of things he can’t do any more. The things we now need to pay to get done.  For some it is things like having to employ a builder, for others, it is having to downsize their home, pay a cleaner, pay a gardener, or just not do things any more.

Why is employing a builder a hidden cost of his injury?

Bedroom RenovationBefore Derek suffered his CAPS event we used to work together to do renovations to the house.  This included turning our downstairs bedroom, shower room, and toilet, into a Master Bedroom with ensuite.

The cost of this exercise was extremely low.  We paid just for the materials used.  We paid a very small amount to have 2 power points moved.  We worked weekends, nights, and took a few days off work.

Top Left is the entrance foyer of our home.  You can see the door to the shower room, and the door to the downstairs toilet.  The bedroom is the door to the right.

Derek built the new wall (back of new wardrobe).  He then demolished the old wardrobe, we gutted the room, insulated, relined, and created a new Master Bedroom.

This was done a year before CAPS.

We have done a couple of small outside projects, with a lot of help from others including building a garden and a garden shed  and an deck outside the dining room.

Derek designed the deck, but we had to call on friends and family to build it.  It is an amazing asset,  and again, we paid for materials, and food for workers.  The help to build these things was fantastic.  But what about the bigger projects. Something the size of the Master Bedroom.   Like a kitchen?  Or insulating the Living Room?

We are looking at selling our home in a few years and find something slightly smaller.  There is a lot of new building going on around our area and we have to have our home at the right level to get the right money.  That means insulation in the Living Room is essential, as is a new kitchen.

Once upon a time we wouldn’t have thought anything of it.  We would have just purchased the materials, contracted a kitchen manufacturer to make the cabinets and bench top and over a period of a couple of months, done the work.  But not now.  And it was too big a job to ask friends to spend 2 days building.

So we had to pay a builder.  He is a great builder, with home renovations/alterations as his specialty, but still, we had to pay.  We have had to pay him for a lot of the other “little” jobs around as well.  Things that would normally take a weekend for Derek and I to do, now either doesn’t happen, or Chris comes to our rescue, but at a price.

So, Chris came in and gutted the lounge.  He then built a new ceiling, insulated the entire lounge, relined it.  We had to get a plasterer in to paint.  We had to get a painter in to paint it.

As for the kitchen.  It is a great Kitchen, I love it.  But again, we kept Chris employed where we could would once have done much of the work.

Gutted KitchenWith the help of a friend we did remove the old kitchen.

Most of the kitchen was still in good enough shape to be used elsewhere.  It was after all, a Designer kitchen.  It just wasn’t a well designed kitchen.

Our friend agreed to remove it with her and I doing the bulk of the work including carrying the units down to her trailer, taking them to her place, and putting them in her garage, for her to have installed in her home.  Derek did the little bits.  He unscrewed units from each other, and supervised, or held things while Sian and I did the hard labour.  Thank the Lord for Sian.  She has a new kitchen and Derek didn’t end up overdoing things.

But once everything was removed the walls were a complete mess.  Patches here and there.  Holes in the wall.  No insulation,  It had to be gutted.  We also needed to install a new window as one of the windows was sitting below the height of our new bench.

 

rebuilding

Chris, working hard (instead of Derek)

Enter Chris again. It wasn’t a big room.  For someone fit and healthy, which Chris is, it was a 5 day job to put up new ceilings, new wall lining, and install the new window.  Working along with the plumber and electrician it took 2 weeks in total.  Inbetween that, we had the kitchen company come in and install the units and bench top.

Then Derek and I could do some more work.  Well I could do some more work.  Derek “supervised”.  I plastered, sanded, and painted.  Derek did bits and pieces, working as he could, taking extra HC as he needed.  It took several days, with me doing the bulk of the work.  It was hard work, but rewarding.

Once we had the units installed it was time to put up the tile spashback behind the sink, and along the bench top.  Again, Derek cut a few tiles with a motorised tile cutter, and I did the installing of them.

KitchenFinished

The Finished Kitchen

All Up, for the living room and kitchen, it cost us $10,000 for work that 5 years ago we would have done ourselves.  This was the cost of employing a builder for work that Derek was once very capable of doing, and in a good timeframe.

So what is the hidden cost of a medical misadventure.  So far in the last 12 months it has added up to $10,000 and rising.  This, you do not get compensated for.

 

I understand that others would already have to get someone in for this, but when it is something you would have previously done yourself, it makes a difference. It certainly made a difference to the cost of the Kitchen.

For others it may be something different but there will always be hidden costs that are not compensated for, or that have no real measure and that are not thought about when it comes to the cost of a Chronic, or unexpected illness.

 

 

 

Did you Really Just Say That?

In the last couple of weeks I have been compiling a list of comments from Medical Practitioners to Addison’s disease patients.  I have called it “Did you really just say that”.
Unfortunately, although these are specific to Addison’s disease, it is not just Addison’s patients that this happens to.
I am sure many with Chronic Illness have heard similar comments about their conditions.

did you really just say that 

Please feel free to download it and read it.

I have a cure for Addison’s

tui ad(Those of you that are from New Zealand will understand this ad, for others, it’s about the “Yeah Right”.  Basically, it means what is on the left, is a complete fabrication.)

I belong to several on line support groups for Adrenal Insufficiency (Addison’s Disease) to both help others with Adrenal Insufficiency (AI) and to get assistance with questions Derek and I have about AI.

One thing that annoys many who have struggled to get a true diagnosis, and the correct treatment for AI once diagnosed, is the people that post that they had AI, diagnosed by this herbalist, or that naturiopath, or some Dietitian with a Dr in front of their name and even once by a chiropractor. None of these people have access to the correct blood tests for a definitive diagnosis of either SAI or PAI. They then tell everyone how they have had this miraculous cure by neck manipulation, taking this herbal mixture, or that vitamin concoction, or eating this menu of food. They then try to convince those who have the condition, to stop their steroids, take these natural cures, and they will be cured. “Here, read this, it will fix you.”

If you truly believe you have this condition, go to the UK Addison’s Disease Self Help Group for a fantastic resource on how to get diagnosed, and treated.  Some people have difficulty finding a Dr that understands blood tests enough to correctly interpret the results, or that put their symptoms down to anorexia, depression, psychosis etc.

Here I am talking about, those who come in asking about everyone elses symptoms, so they can copy them, to make it sound like they have the condition.

I have also had people come to me personally and tell me that they heard about a natural cure for AI.

Some of the sites they refer you to look like genuine medical sites. They even claim to be by Dr’s.

And that is not to say that the “Dr’s” don’t have a Doctorate. One particular one has a Doctorate, but in fact it is in nutrition. But he has developed a great, natural cure for AI. He is not a medical practitioner, can not do blood tests (and does not recommend blood tests). He is a multimillionaire by selling “snake oil” aimed at those with “Adrenal Fatigue”.  Unfortunately people thing that Addison’s is simply Adrenal Fatigue and can be cured naturally.

Another such site was posted on one of the support groups recently. Not to encourage us to use the cure, but in share frustration that the member posting it, had yet again been told that they can stop taking steroids, and just eat natural herbs, vitamins, and other cures.

I have also heard someone was told that they could go through a IVIG (immunoglobulin exchange) and they could stop their steroids because fixing the immune system would fix the already damaged Adrenal Glands. Fixing the immune system is great, and can stop an inflammatory attack from doing further damage (it even be used during CAPS), but it will not repair the damage already done.

AI does not only last while you are suffering an attack by your immune system, it is the resultant damage. Even once the attack is over, the damage is permanent.

Sadly some people believe these sites, and can end up in Hospital, fighting for their lives.

The cure this week: Vitamins, Liquorice and Green Tea. (Warning Signs Of Adrenal Insufficiency And Natural Methods Of Treatment)

The issue I have with this one isn’t taking vitamins, it isn’t eating liquorice, or drinking green tea. All of things, in moderation, can be good for you.

The issue is people miss quote research, meaning their solutions can be dangerously wrong.

Grapefruit juice and licorice increase cortisol availability in patients with Addison’s disease: Paal Methlie1,2, Eystein E S Husebye1,3, Steinar Hustad1, Ernst A Lien1,2 and Kristian Løvås1,3

This study looked at the effect of Grapefruit Juice and Licorice on Cortisol.

Conclusion Licorice and in particular GFJ increased cortisol available to tissues in the hours following oral CA administration. Both patients and physicians should be aware of these interactions.

The most important thing about this study (which is what people use to say stop the cortisol and start eating licorice) is that it helps prolong the life of the cortisol in your body.

This sounds great, but it has been shown that over eating of such things as licorice WILL cause other medical conditions especially in Addisonians. The reason. Addisonians (especially primary) suffer from high potassium which must always be kept under control and licorice can decrease your potassium levels.  But there is a warning out there “Despite its apparent use in a few clinical scenarios, the daily consumption of licorice is never justified because its benefits are minor compared to the adverse outcomes of chronic consumption.” (Licorice abuse: time to send a warning message. Hesham R. Omar,)

The catch?   To help extend the life of cortisol in the body, you must first HAVE cortisol in the body. Addison’s Disease/Adrenal Insufficiency means you no longer naturally produce cortisol. What you have in your body is what you take via replacement therapy. With secondary AI you may actually produce a little, but not enough to live. It doesn’t mat­­ter if you don’t have a math degree, you should still know that 0 x anything will still be 0.

Are you getting the point yet?

You can’t increase the effect of something you don’t have. For this particular website to say you should stop taking steroids and start taking their “cure” is actually dangerous.

Education doesn’t always work

As said earlier, I have very recently been the victim of this myself. I spent some time explaining to someone, the problems with Adrenal Insufficiency, what it was, what Derek had to take to stay alive.

I have now been told twice by this person that natural treatments will fix Derek. I should get him off all his medication, and give him “Adrenal Support”, which I discovered when I looked up the product I was told about, was in fact animal adrenal glands with other herbs and vitamins.

Wow, if only. Unfortunately this was the “cure” from 1890’s to 1950’s when they found Hydrocortisone allowing Addison’s sufferers to actually be able to get out of bed (although some still can’t), a lucky some to work, and if lucky (and the medical profession don’t kill you first) to live a longer life.

I am sure I have said before, hydrocortisone is not a Cure for Addison’s disease. There is no cure. Hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone are what is currently used to keep the Addisonian Patient alive. The average Life expectancy is now found to be reduced on average but a lot longer than in 1942 when it was still less than 2 years and where if you had to have surgery, got an infection or even a tooth extraction, it would probably kill you.

Why, oh why, would anyone go backwards to “natural cures” that would if you were really lucky, keep you alive (but in bed and in pain) for no more than 2 years over the synthetic hydrocortisone that is available today.

If you are reading this please DO NOT tell your friend who has Adrenal Insufficiency, either primary or secondary, that you have read about a cure. You will only achieve 2 things.

  1. The loss of a good friend (if they were one to start with)
  2. Manage to make yourself look stupid.

DHEA – To Take It or Not

What is DHEA?

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a drug that those in the Addison’s world talk about.   Some talk is positive, some is negative.
Some have tried it and think it is the best thing since sliced bread, others have tried, and stop quickly because of their perceived side effects.

Technically Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) are the major circulating adrenal steroids and substrates for peripheral sex hormone biosynthesis.

DHEA is a Hormone precursor that is produced by the adrenal glands. The problem is, as a rule it is not replaced when your adrenal glands fail, especially in men. For 2 years, we didn’t know anything about it. It wasn’t an option talked about by Derek’s Public Hospital Endocrinologist. It was something I started hearing about in the Forums.

After discussing DHEA with a number of men in the forums I talked about it with Derek. He started investigating. He is not one to listen just to those taking it. He wanted to know the scientific information behind it.   He read multiple studies.

After 6 months of investigation we went to our Dr and asked if Derek could trial it. She had heard of it, but never scripted it so sent him to a private Endocrinologist who worked with “those with complex endocrine issues”. We spent an hour with this Dr.

At the end of that time, we walked out with a 3 month trial of DHEA. The catches:

        It is a prescription only medication.
        It is not available through your normal pharmacy.
        It is not subsidised, so you have to pay full price.
      You have to go to a compounding pharmacy.

DHEA and Testosterone

DHEA increases your Testosterone, in both women and men.  There is he risk of too high a rise in Testosterone because Derek has had, but is currently clear of, Prostate Cancer. We are aware that pushing his testosterone up too high may be an issue.

We decided the trial was worth a trial it.

We knew all this going in. We also hoped (but anyone who knows ACC wouldn’t hold their breath) that as this was a hormone produced by the Adrenal Glands, ACC would pay for it.

Step 1 – Get blood tests of important levels as a base point.

Step 2 – Send script to the Compounding Pharmacy. The Endo gave us the name and contact details. We then contacted them to find out what had to happen.

Step 3 – Wait. Because the drug had to be made for us especially, we knew it would take a few weeks. It finally arrived.

Step 4 – Trial Begins. There needed to be some provable results so we got blood testing. We started with levels of cholesterol, testosterone and DHEA.

Derek began the Trial. – 25mg/day

After a week he felt he wasn’t quite as tired as he normally was by the end of the week.  I actually observed one night about 5 days into the trial, that he was still up working on his tablet and watching TV at 9.15pm.

His normal bedtime for the last 3 years has been 7.30-8.00 pm.

Was this wishful thinking, or genuine result? Time would tell.

After a month I had noticed a difference. He seemed happier, more relaxed, less fatigued (we were able to do more things), but the biggest difference was he became more “loving”. He was not back to pre injury, but he would grab me as I walked past and give me a hug. Something he hadn’t done in a long time. Not that he hadn’t wanted to, he just hadn’t had the energy to do it.

After 3 months we had his levels checked again.

Testosterone Range – 9-25 nmol/L
Pre DHEA – 15.3 nmol/L
Post DHEA – 19.7 nmol/L

DHEA Serum Levels Range: 1.4-8.0 umol/L
Pre DHEA – <0.6 umol/L (undetectable)
Post DHEA 2.6 umol/L

LDL/HDL ratio: <4.0
Pre DHEA – 6.1
Post DHEA – 6.0

The Trial Ends

After 3 months it was decided Derek would take a 2 week break while we got another script, and to see if there was any obvious change.

Within 4 days, he was back to going to bed around 8.00pm at the latest. He was struggling to work properly, he was finding it hard to focus on things for too long.

Monday of week two he struggled home from work and collapsed into his chair. He could barely function. Tuesday got worse. Wednesday he was barely working. He took extra cortisol.

Thursday he again took extra cortisol, had a bad headache, and his blood pressure had begun jumping for no obvious reason. His mood was that of a person fatigued to the point of no patience.

Another thing we noticed is that at some in the first day or two of stopping the DHEA he had knocked his head, and had got a small “mark” which bled. Every morning for 2 weeks he would wash his face, and the small mark would bleed. On the Saturday before he started the DHEA again he was walking into the bathroom and walked into the door frame. He cut his forehead just below the previous mark, and right through his eyebrow. It wasn’t a serious cut, but enough that it took a while to stop bleeding.

The telling issue came at midnight Thursday night/Friday morning of week to off DHEA.

I woke to find Derek tossing and turning. I heard the tell tale signs of burping. I lay there, not letting him know I was awake, as he hates disturbing me.

He had developed a headache before going to bed, and by midnight it was a lot worse. He eventually took panadol and got up for a cup of tea. I went to the kitchen to see him, get him back to bed and, after resting for 5 minutes, I took his BP. After being in bed for 6 hours, it had risen to 157/99.

At this point I insisted he took more HC. We had two more days before we were going to have him take the DHEA again.

Should we give up and start it again?  Was this rapid downhill run truly due to the lack of DHEA?

He suffered on Friday, taking double dose HC. He was not ill, but showing signs still, of too low a cortisol level.  Saturday morning, laying late in bed, Derek asked me if he should take the DHEA or wait till the Sunday.  He was getting worse by the day so I told him to take it again.

Back on DHEA

Derek started taking DHEA again on Saturday, Sunday he felt the same (we didn’t expect anything else).  We have settled on 25mg/day.

Monday he worked from home. He felt tired, but not as bad as the previous week.

Tuesday night our youngest (18 yr old) came into the lounge and asked if we were going to bed, what was Dad still doing up.

We suddenly realised it was 9.45, and he was tired, but not struggling to the point of being desperate for bed.

Other things we noticed.

We have noticed some other things significant to Derek.

The most telling was the small mark on his forehead that had continued to bleed each morning on washing his face for the whole 2 weeks he didn’t take DHEA.

By Monday morning, not only did that mark finally stop bleeding when Derek washed his face, but so did the cut he received 2 days previously.

Since his CAPS event, he has suffered from sharp sudden migraine type symptoms when put in a fight or flight situation. Nobody has been able to get to the bottom of this. The only thing we know for certain is that, if it is a visual issue, the pain begins on the right side of his head, if it is auditory, it begins on the left.

What Derek didn’t realise until he stopped taking the DHEA is that he still suffers these incidents, but the sharpness of the migraine has been reduced when on DHEA. It wasn’t until he suffered a fright in the car on the second Saturday and he got the old “sharp” pain in his head did he realise that in the last 3 months, the pain had been more dull than sharp. He also suffered 3 events in one day.

Clearly this is a Plus for Derek.

The second thing he has noticed is his sleep. We have Fitbits. We use them, not only to track walking, but to track his sleep.

When not on DHEA Derek tends to “crash” for long periods of not moving.  When on DHEA his sleep is more of the normal 3 levels of sleep that “normal” people get.

During the 3 months trial period Derek got a cold.  It is not the first cold he has had but this time, it didn’t come to anything. He took an extra couple of days at home, but he didn’t need to take time in bed. He was able to function. This was a big change from previously when he would end up in bed, taking double or tripple dose HC for 2-3 days just to function.

He is going to continue taking this for at least a year to see if there is further improvement. The fatigue is still there, that is a side effect of the exective dysfunction, the effort to eat with his dysphagia, and the adrenal insufficiency, but it has definitely lessened. With some of the other improvements, for Derek at least, DHEA is something that should be replaced.

As a foot note. The Accident Compensation Corporation has agreed to fund the DHEA, our local Chemist is able to source if for us (from the compounding pharmacy so we simply take the Script to them when Derek takes other scripts in, and now the Dr knows what level to prescribe, she will do the pescriptions.

Today, all is good with the world (at least the world of DHEA).

If you are a male with Adrenal Insufficiency, and you haven’t thought about this hormone, it is worth giving it a go. There isn’t a lot of research where men are concerned, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right for men. Speak to your Dr or Endocrinologist. If they say NO, ask them why, make them justify not giving it, rather than them making you justify why you should have it.

WARNING:  there are two types of DHEA.  Be careful which one you get.

Wild yam and diosgenin promoted as a “natural DHEA.”   In the laboratory DHEA is made from diosgenin, but this chemical reaction is not believed to occur in the human body. So taking wild yam extract will not increase DHEA levels in people. Individuals who are interested in taking DHEA should avoid wild yam products labelled as “natural DHEA.”   Copied from <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/970.html>

Adrenal Insufficiency vs Adrenal Fatigue

Status

In America April is Adrenal Insufficiency Awareness Month.

Awareness Ribbon

Adrenal Insufficiency Awareness Month

INSUFFICIENCY = the inability of an organ to perform its normal function.

What is Adrenal Insufficiency and what is Adrenal Fatigue?

A recent article on AI vs AF. http://www.health.com/mind-body/adrenal-fatigue-facts

Adrenal Insufficiency as described by Patients.UK:

Adrenal insufficiency leads to a reduction in the output of adrenal hormones, ie glucocorticoids and/or mineralocorticoids. There are two types of adrenal insufficiency:

  • Primary insufficiency – there is an inability of the adrenal glands to produce enough steroid hormones (Addison’s disease is the name given to the autoimmune cause of this insufficiency). Glucocorticoid and often mineralocorticoid hormones are lost.
  • Secondary insufficiency – there is inadequate pituitary or hypothalamic stimulation of the adrenal glands.
  • Signs and symptoms of adrenal insufficiency may include:
    • Fatigue
    • Body aches
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Low blood pressure
    • Lightheadedness
    • Loss of body hair
    • Skin discoloration (hyperpigmentation)

Epidemiology

  • Primary insufficiency – this is a relatively rare condition. The annual incidence is about 1 in 10,000 people, with a prevalence in the UK of about 8,400. All age groups can be affected but the most common onset is between 30 and 50 years. More women than men are affected. (In New Zealand, that would be approximately 400 people at any given time)
  • Secondary insufficiency – bearing in mind the many factors that can lead to suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (of which the most common is exogenous steroid use) it is not surprising that this is a relatively common condition. One American study found that 31% of patients admitted to a Critical Care Unit were suffering from secondary adrenal insufficiency.

Aetiology

Addison’s disease is the term used to describe adrenal insufficiency but it can have many causes. 70-90% of cases of Addison’s disease have an autoimmune basis. This is characterised by progressive destruction of the adrenal glands – most likely the result of cytotoxic T lymphocytes, although 50% of patients have circulating adrenal antibodies. Clinical and biochemical insufficiency only occurs once >90% of the gland is destroyed.

Adrenal Fatigue as described by the Mayo Clinic:

Adrenal fatigue is a term applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems. The term often shows up in popular health books and on alternative medicine websites, but it isn’t an accepted medical diagnosis.

Your adrenal glands produce a variety of hormones that are essential to life. The medical term adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease) refers to inadequate production of one or more of these hormones as a result of an underlying disease.

Adrenal insufficiency can be diagnosed by blood tests and special stimulation tests that show inadequate levels of adrenal hormones.

Proponents of the adrenal fatigue diagnosis claim this is a mild form of adrenal insufficiency caused by chronic stress. The unproven theory behind adrenal fatigue is that your adrenal glands are unable to keep pace with the demands of perpetual fight-or-flight arousal. As a result, they can’t produce quite enough of the hormones you need to feel good. Existing blood tests, according to this theory, aren’t sensitive enough to detect such a small decline in adrenal function — but your body is.

It’s frustrating to have persistent symptoms your doctor can’t readily explain. But accepting a medically unrecognized diagnosis from an unqualified practitioner could be worse. Unproven remedies for so-called adrenal fatigue may leave you feeling sicker, while the real cause — such as depression or fibromyalgia — continues to take its toll.

So what does that all mean to Addisonians?

awareness

If you are told that you have “Adrenal Fatigue” congratulations because you can be cured! But be careful because you may actually have an undiagnosed serious medical condition.

So why then, can’t Adrenal Insufficiency be cured?

If you have been diagnosed with Adrenal Insufficiency you have a chronic (life long) medical condition. Your adrenal glands do not produce the Cortisol that your body needs, to live. They can not be transplanted.

Cortisol is called the Stress Hormone because everything your body does, needs cortisol to do it, and if you are under stress, you produce more. When you don’t produce cortisol, and you are under major stress (illness, accident etc) your body goes into shock, and if not treated, YOU WILL DIE!
Why am I telling you this?

To understand Adrenal Insufficiency, you need to understand the difference between this and “Adrenal Fatigue”.

“Adrenal Fatigue” – can’t be diagnosed with blood tests/ MRI’s, CTS’s. Will not kill you, and does not cause a life threatening “crisis” when you get sick.

“Adrenal insufficiency” – Diagnosed with blood tests/ MRI’s, CTS’s. If you become ill, and you do not receive the correct medical care, IT CAN KILL YOU.

So why then, do people get a diagnosis of “Adrenal Fatigue” every day somewhere in the world, and those with Adrenal Insufficiency mostly get diagnosis when in ICU in Adrenal Crisis, and close to death, or at autopsy because they died from an Adrenal Crisis?

Is it because there are so many “Dr’s” putting “Adrenal Fatigue” out there as the answer when they don’t have an answer. Is it a lazy diagnosis. If you have Adrenal Fatigue, be very careful, you may actually have a genuine, life threatening form of Cushings or Adrenal Insufficiency.

Now here is the scary thing for those who have been told they have adrenal fatigue. It is now believed that 30%+ of those who have been diagnosed with “Adrenal Fatigue” have had a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) which can include something as simple as a bad concussion, and have had damage to their pituitary gland which shows up well after the event (20-30 years later for some), and they have been miss-diagnosed.
How Can You Help?

70%+ of people with Adrenal Insufficiency receive facebook posts, emails, books, or some other form of information on how This person, or That Person, had AI and is cured!

“Look, read this. If you rest, eat a clean diet, get off the Steroids, you will be cured.”

To all those well meaning people that send their friends, relatives etc, information how someone recovered. Trust me. IF YOU HAVE PAI AND STOP YOUR MEDS YOU WILL DIE! No doubt! It may not happen over night, but it will happen within 3-5 days.

Ok, it is here that I will say that a very very small sub group of people with Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency are lucky. With the right medical supervision, they can reduce their oral hydrocortisone slowly, and “kick start” their adrenal glands. BUT it is a VERY LIMITED FEW Secondary AI. And that is because of the way they got AI in the first place.

If you know someone, or you have someone in the family, a friend, a work make, who has Adrenal Insufficiency (more commonly called Addison’s Disease) support them by learning about their condition. Each person, and how they manage their illness, is different. The best friend or relative you can be, is to ask them about their symptoms or problems and how they deal with it on a day to day basis. BELIEVE them about it, and ask what you can do to help if they are ill.

Learn what to do in an emergency, and how to be their advocate when in Hospital.

One of the first signs of an impending Adrenal Crisis, is the inability to actually realise they are about to go into crisis. They find it hard to make a decision.

For Derek, when he appears unwell and I ask if he is ill it is generally when he says he doesn’t know, that I know he is suffering the most. When he is actually going into crisis, he is even less sure about what he should do.
So what DON’T you do? DON’T tell them that your cousin’s, wife’s, sisters, husbands, brother had AI and is cured!

Not all Doom and Gloom

clearlyaliveamberThere are many with Adrenal Insufficiency who can actually lead a good life.

When you are first diagnosed, you are told you can live a “normal” life. That is not strictly true. If you are lucky, then with good Dr’s, good education, and good management, you may be able to live a “good” life.

Throughout the internet you can find examples of those that suffer daily, those that regularly go into crisis, and those that compete in the international arena in sport, are award winning Music artists, even one US President.

Don’t be fooled though, the Olympic Athlete, the Gold Record Selling Music Artist, and the US President all have or have had, a great medical team around them at all times, checking them, keeping an eye on them, adjusting their medication and trying every day to make their Patient look “Normal”.

Most people can’t afford that 24/7 care. They find ways to manage their illness so they can have more control, and achieve what they want.

One of my Hero’s (if you can call a woman that) is a young lady called Amber, who is an inspiration to many in the way she pushes through her illness, to be Clearly Alive.

(Thank you to those who’s images I have used in this blog, especially Amber)