Monthly Archives: April 2009

Swine Flu and Autoimmune Diseases

You can’t turn a television on lately without hearing something about the possiblility of a  swine flu pandemic.  As of 11:00 am today EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)  the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in Atlanta, GA has reported 64 confirmed cases of the swine flu.  The CDC has issued a travel warning recommending against non essential travel to Mexico.  Yesterday the WHO (World Health Organization) raised the worldwide pandemic alert level from Phase 4 to Phase 5. Phase 4 means there is verifiable human to human transmission of infection.  Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion. Phase 5 ” is characterized by human to human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region.” This means there is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and  it is time to implement measures to deal with the reality of a pandemic

Currently there is no vaccine available for the swine flu.  The WHO believes that having an annual flu vaccine may offer partial protection against the current strain.  However this influenza strain is biologically different from  the strain that is protected with the current vaccine.  Currently the CDC is studying and developing a vaccine for the recent swine flu outbreak.

In Mexico there have been close to 1,600 suspected cases of this influenza strain.  Scientist are working to understand why there are so many deaths in Mexico when the United States cases seem mild.  Some believe that the infected people in Mexico waited until the were very ill before seeking medical attention.  The concern is that most of those that died in Mexico were healthy young adults.  As of yesterday there were 149 fatalities from this outbreak.

The United States government announced a public health emergency although President Barack Obama urged calm.  Obama  told a gathering of the National Academy of Sciences the swine flu outbreak “requires a heightened state of alert, but it is not a cause for alarm”.  The acting director of the CDC, Richard Besser said the affected states ( New York, Ohio, Kansas, Texas and California) would be receiving 11 million courses of antiviral drugs.

So what does this mean if you are currently taking medication that suppresses your immune system, as many of us with autoimmune diseases do?  It means that we need to extra vigilant when it comes to hygiene, make sure that you wash your hands often with soap and water. I always keep a alcohol based hand cleaner in my car and I use it after every shopping trip.  Avoid contact with someone who is sick.   If you should start to feel sick with flu  like symptoms, runny nose, cough, aches,and fever call your doctor and stay home from school or work.  Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes, that is how germs are spread.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are updating their websites regularly.  Here are their links:

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Marriage

weddingbellsMy nephew got married yesterday.  I wish for Russ and his new bride Cassi a lifetime of much joy and happiness .  The ceremony was lovely  and mother nature blessed the happy couple with a beautiful  spring day. While I watched the two exchange their vows I couldn’t help but reflect back on my own wedding day 23 years ago. When Eric and I  took our vows to love and honor each other through sickness and health,  neither of us could have anticipated how young we would be when sickness would become an such a life altering concern.

I chose an incredible man to share my life with.  It is when life is at it’s most trying that you really know the measure of a partner and the quality of a relationship.  Living with someone who has a chronic disease can be more than a challenge.  Watching someone that you love in pain is difficult and can be frustrating because there is nothing you can do to “fix it”.

Eric has quite literally picked me up when I fell down and lifted my spirits with his positivity and good humor.  He has been patient with me when I could not be patient with my own body and it’s limitations . He has accepted the challenges that rheumatoid arthritis has brought to our lives without complaint and with a quiet strength that reassures me that ultimately everything will be alright.

Rheumatoid arthritis has changed not only my life but the lives of those that love me as well. While I have changed both physically and spiritually while dealing with the challenges this disease has brought, my husband Eric has remained the steady, calming force that has enabled me to face this journey with positivity and hopefully some grace. To say that I married my best friend is an understatement.  I know that I would not be living as well with rheumatoid arthritis were it not for his support and love.

Product Review: EASI-TWIST Jar Opener

Grandma's Jar Opener

Grandma's Jar Opener

 My grandmother passed this jar opener down to me.  It’s called the Wizard Jar Wrench.  It’s made of of metal ( myEasi-Twist Jar Opener husband says probably steel )  and I have been using it for at least the past ten years. It has an hinged handle that easily opens any size bottle or jar.  This is a really handy opener for when the rheumatoid arthritis in my hands starts acting up, with one exception.  The metal handle slides off the lid of the jar especially if the cover is made of metal.  It keeps hold of the cover as you are trying to turn it because it has small grooves in inside of the handle to grip the cover while turning.  The problem I have with the jar wrench is the handle slides off the top of the jar,  if a steady pressure up and down is not applied. But with a few tries I  can usually open any jar even when my hands hurt.

Today I found the new and improved version of grandma’s jar wrench.  It’s called EASI-TWIST.  It is almost the same design but it is made of plastic which makes it alot lighter and it has a soft plastic ridge that keeps the opener from sliding off the top of the jar like grandma’s did. I have tried the newer version on everything from water bottles to pickle jars and everything I have tried it on has opened easily for me.  It sells for between $8.00 and $9.00 at so it is an affordable solution to an every day problem.  I’m still going to keep Grandma’s opener for sentimental reasons, but I think from now on I’ll be using the EASI-TWIST.

YouTube – Vitamin D and Prevention of Chronic Diseases

YouTube – Vitamin D and Prevention of Chronic Diseases.

This is a long video on the importance of vitamin D, but it is really worth the time.  Michael F. Holick  PhD, MD from Boston University’s School of Medicine explains in great detail the importance of vitamin D and how deficiency in this vital vitamin effects the body.  The lecture is at times humorous and very interesting.  He touches on Rheumatoid Arthritis(RA) in this lecture as well as MultipleSclerosis(MS) and cancer as three specific diseases that can be tied to vitamin d deficiency.  I really think that this video is worth the time investment.  I know that I will be increasing my vitamin D intake after seeing this lecture and I wish I had see it before my earlier post on vitamin D and RA because  I would have added this video to the previous post. I feel that what Dr. Holick has to say is really important and that is why I am revisiting the topic.

Vitamin D and Rheumatoid Arthritis

sunshineThe warmer weather is on its way and it is the perfect opportunity to get outside and grab some rays.

The best source of vitamin D in sunshine.  In just 15 to 20 minutes per day outside in the sun your body will absorb all the vitamin D it needs for the day.  But beware some RA medications like methotrexate make you more sensitive to the sun.  And steroids interfere with absorption of vitamin D.  The best time to get the maximum benefit is when the sun is directly overhead.  It is not necessary to get all 15 minutes at the same time .  You can split up the exposure to 5 minutes, 3 times per day to get the same benefit.

The human body manufactures vitamin D when exposed to the sun.  It also can be found in certain products such as milk fortified with vitamin D. It is also found in fish, eggs and cod liver oil. Vitamin D is essential for promoting calcium absorption  for healthy bones.  Vitamin D has been shown to reduce inflammation and regulate immune function.  

The recommended daily value of vitamin D for both women and men under 50 years old is 200 IU ( international units ), 400 IU for those 51 to 70 and 600UI for 71 and older.

Hand-Stretching Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

hands-001hands-002About a year and a half ago I went for physical therapy for my hands.  I was having issues with some of my fingers being hyper-extended.  While discussing with the therapist some of the challenges that I was experiencing with RA, she suggested that I try some hand exercises.  They really did help my hands feel less stiff.  A fellow twitterer sent me this link: Hand-Stretching Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). to a Web MD post about hand exercises that are very similar to the exercises the physical therapist showed me.  I think that this article does a good job of explaining the exercises although I think some visuals would have been helpful too.

What Rheumatoid Arthritis Has Taught Me: Lesson #3 Gratitude

Why is it sometimes that we don’t appreciate what we have until it is gone?  I know that I did not value the joy of a good run before I came down with RA.  I wish I had appreciated it when I could still do it.  There are many things that I should have been grateful for when my body worked effortlessly. The lesson that RA taught me: Gratitude.

I could choose to be angry or resentful that I can no longer do the physical things that I used to. That would be looking backward at something I cannot change. I choose to be grateful for what I have today.  I try to take nothing for granted.  I can never tell which joint will be effected on any given day so I really need to be grateful for the ones that work today. Tomorrow they may be painful and not move very well.

When I think of gratitude, to me it means assessing value in everyday things.  Sometimes it is the smallest things that I am most grateful. For example I am grateful for the sun, the way that it warms my skin and nourishes my body. I am grateful for the way the laundry smells when it first comes out of the dryer.  And sometimes it’s the bigger more important things that I am most grateful for such as  my husband , who has loved me for over 25 years and makes me laugh almost everyday or my kids, each one so incredibly unique and amazing.

I started with the small things.  I was grateful that my feet did not hurt as much as yesterday.  I was grateful that I didn’t have to go up and down the stairs a second time.  Somehow  the more that I acknowledged all that I have been given, the more that was given to me and the less I needed external things to fill my life.  I  really have all that I need.  I am loved and I have so many to love. Everything else is a bonus. The fact that my body does not look or act the way that it used to is not as important as it once was.

Sooner or later everyone will have to deal with the fact that their physical body is not what it was in its youth.  Because I have rheumatoid arthritis I have challenges that have presented themselves earlier in my life than someone who doesn’t have this disease but there is nothing that I can do about that. Every person has their own issues, their own stuff that they have to deal with. No life goes without challenges.

In learning the true meaning of gratitude, there has been a shift in my focus from what I thought I wanted to the abundance in my life. It feels like being given a new pair of glasses to see the world with clarity. For this I am immensely grateful.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
~ Melody Beattie ~

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