Coping With Loneliness with Chronic Pain

The Problem of Loneliness

Chronic pain and Invisible Illness are difficult conditions to live with and can lead to social withdrawal and loneliness. When you get sick, not only do you have to process and deal with things like surgeries, recovery, medications, new symptoms and flare-ups but socially you may have to give up hobbies and activities you once loved, making it hard to nurture friendships and relationships with those close to you.

It’s hard for those who love you to understand why you might have to cancel plans last minute or leave during the middle of the evening. Because they’ve never experienced what you’re going through, it’s hard to have a frame of reference. Unless you’ve lived it, it’s impossible to make others understand.

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Social Isolation Is Serious

Because of these changes that we have to make – like leaving in the middle of an event or cancelling plans – we open ourselves up to feelings of social isolation, depression and anxiety and guilt.

Social isolation is defined as an occurrence when a person lacks opportunities to interact with people while loneliness is the subjective experience of distress over not having enough social relationships or enough contact with people.

It is possible for a person with a chronic illness to be socially isolated and not feel lonely and someone with a chronic illness can feel lonely, while not being socially isolated. There are several issues that people with chronic illness face that can lead to social isolation and feeling lonely:

  • Disbelief from others when you don’t have a clear diagnosis
  • Physical limitations due to pain or fatigue
  • The unpredictability of symptom onset
  • The trigger of symptoms related to noises, smells, etc.
  • Lack of a strong support system (Family and/or Friends)
  • Changes in employment or financial stability
  • Loss of hobbies and outside activities

Social isolation and feeling lonely are important health problems and should not be overlooked. The chronic illness population is at an even higher risk for social isolation and this problem should be addressed with your Doctor along with other symptoms and risk factors.

What You Can Do About It

When you are socially isolated and have feelings of loneliness, it can actually make your chronic illness worse. The longer you are experiencing isolation or loneliness, the more you start to develop feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, distrust and abandonment toward yourself and others. The more these feelings grow, the less likely you are to seek out real human connections.

So what can you do when you start having these feelings?

1. Recognize loneliness for what it is, and accept that you have these feelings. Self-awareness is important in making positive changes. When you catch yourself falling into old habits, you’ll be able to more quickly turn things around.

2. Use Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to help reframe your thoughts to become more positive and open to socialization. This can be done with the help of a therapist or through online courses and over time, can be very effective.

3. Resist the temptation to isolate yourself and start forcing yourself to recognize if this is your “go-to response. Deliberately try doing the opposite of what you’re feeling – instead of retreating into watching TV, take a walk or pick up the phone and call someone. The more you resist the temptation to isolate, the easier it becomes

4. Fill your life with loving positive people who are patient and trustworthy and who truly try to understand what you are going through. They will be your encouragers and biggest support system. Remove negative people from your life…you don’t need their energy.

5. Try one new thing each week that will get you to meet new people. Try an art class, go to yoga, volunteer… anything that will get you to meet new people who like doing things that you like to do.

6. Seek out a support group for your illness. This is a great way to meet people who really do understand what you’re going through. Even an online group is fine to get started as being with like-minded people will help to engage you instead of isolating you.

7. Ask for what you need in your life. Don’t feel you’re being a burden on others…when someone asks what they can do for you to help, they genuinely want to help. Let them…give them the opportunity to be of service to you. Perhaps it’s to invite you out for coffee once a week or to go take a class together. You’ll be helping them as much as they will be helping you.

8. Consider therapy. It can help you explore any deeper issues that might be contributing to loneliness or social isolation. Therapy can also be a great accountability and skills training support to help you manage all of the difficult things you are going through in a safe way.

Remember, 

There Is Always Hope

It’s Okay To Be Angry About Chronic Illness (I Am!)

Note: This post contains Affiliate Links which pay me a small percentage of your purchase price at no cost to you.

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

The Beginning

I want to tackle a hard subject today…the emotions that surround living with a Chronic Illness. Every day, we survive the physical pain, but we don’t always talk about the emotional pain that comes with being ill. Let’s change that now. 

When I first started feeling the effects of Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis along with my other Chronic Illnesses, I was generally able to function without a lot of changes in my life. I needed some pain medication but found that it helped and didn’t really alter my life, so ended up having some fairly easy years after my initial diagnosis. 

After a period of time, the medication needed to be increased and new drugs had to be introduced to help combat the increasing pain and symptoms. I started taking Lyrica for my Fibro  – a drug that saw me gain 40lbs in 3 months. This is when I first realized that having Chronic Illness was affecting me mentally – I was pissed about the weight gain but resigned to the fact I’d have to live with it. Thankfully my doctor worked with me to find Cymbalta instead and I managed to lose most of the weight I had gained. 

Thus began a pattern where the drugs would work for a while and then lose their effectiveness, necessitating an increase or change in meds, which triggered more anger and emotion. It was a vicious circle…I just wanted to be rid of the pain I was in, but it was getting harder and harder. The side effects of the various meds being introduced were also debilitating and my anger grew at what my body was putting me through. 

As Things Changed

Then came the point where my body had become so broken down that I needed to leave my job and go on long term disability. I can still remember to this day, 10 years later, how incredibly disappointed in myself I was. My body had betrayed me in every way possible. I was at the top of my career with the opportunity to move into some dream roles and suddenly that was all snatched away from me. Devastated doesn’t even begin to come close to how I felt and I ended up in a depression that was hard to come back from. 

It took me a long time to realize that my feelings were valid and I was entitled to feel how I felt. I thought I had to suck it up for everyone around me, and that just wasn’t a place I was ready for. I hadn’t processed my emotions, and they felt just as raw a year later as they had when I first left work. It was only through taking some Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) classes that I started to see how I could validate my feelings yet work through them and come out stronger. 

Having these strong emotions was scary though because I couldn’t separate them at first from the actions of being in pain, and just feeling like a failure as a person. It took time to realize that I had not failed, but my body had. Two very different things. By recognizing the difference, I was able to start accepting that I was not a bad person and that I had done nothing to cause this to happen.

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Image by Sarah Lötscher from Pixabay 

It’s Not Your Fault

I didn’t ask for Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue. I was simply unlucky enough to be a person to have to live with these conditions and that meant I had to find a healthier way of dealing with the emotions this generated. I was not unreliable, my health caused my reliability to suffer. My worth was not just because of my job, but by virtue of simply being here. I was still a good person who had something bad happen to her. 

Do you see where I’m coming from and what I’m trying to say? Just because you have a Chronic Illness doesn’t make you a bad person. This condition has happened to you and changed you, against your will. Learning how to live with it becomes the new normal. Once I recognized this, I was able to take a step back and start taking my life back again. 

Making Changes

I worked with my doctor to find a treatment plan that benefited me. This included some medication changes and additions, as well as adding healthy new components to my life such as meditation, music therapy, gentle exercise, stretching, beginners yoga and balancing my eating habits. I stopped feeling guilty when I had to cancel or change plans because Illness took over. I couldn’t help it when those things happened, so why blame myself? I put the blame where it belonged…on my Illnesses, and left it there. 

I was blessed to be able to start this blog, so I could reach out to others with Chronic Pain conditions and help them navigate their way through their experiences. It was very empowering for me and I gained back huge amounts of confidence as I wrote articles and posts. Knowing I was reaching others and actually helping them was a huge confidence booster. 

I also found myself able to start volunteering again, and now sit on 4 different committees, all devoted to aspects of health care. I am a member of a Provincial Measurement Working Group, creating a survey for patients in BC, Canada about their ER experiences and I sit on two committees with the BC Emergency Medicine Network. I continue to seek out new opportunities to volunteer and was last year was nominated for three WEGO Health Awards – including one for Best in Show: Blog and one for Best Kept Secret (regarding my blog).

To wrap this up, I want to reiterate that I think it’s important to sit with your feelings on a regular basis when you live with Chronic Illness. If you need the help of a professional therapist to process what you’re going through, do it. There’s no shame and definitely no harm in learning how to deal with all the emotions that come with a Chronic condition. In fact, I highly recommend it as a part of your overall treatment plan. 

We go through so much on a daily basis that the notion we’re not affected emotionally is ludicrous. Don’t fall into the trap of being “stoic” and taking the attitude that you can handle things on your own if you truly can’t. Reach out for help, whether it be a professional, a friend, or a spiritual advisor. The peace of mind of knowing you’re not alone in your feelings is precious. And remember…

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Back In Business

I am back from taking a hiatus from writing and it feels good to be typing again. I needed the break as my health was really suffering, and then Covid-19 hit and put a damper on things as well.

It’s important for people with Chronic Illness to recognize when they need to step back from life and make some changes. Rest periods are important in our everyday life, but sometimes you need more than that. A break of several weeks or months isn’t necessarily a bad thing…it helps put your brain into perspective and gives the body an important rest as well.

I had found myself struggling with exhaustion. I would wake up in the morning and within a couple of hours, be tired enough to return to bed for a nap. Later in the afternoon, I’d be sleeping again, and then going to bed early, only to be woken in the middle of the night with pain, making further sleep impossible.

It’s hard to heal or feel better when you have a broken sleep schedule. It can cause depression to sneak in, further adding to the burdens you’re facing and combined with physical pain, you’re suddenly overwhelmed.

I’m not saying I’ve overcome the exhaustion, but I’ve managed to learn how to handle it better. I definitely take naps when I need them and I’m following my body’s own rhythm instead of an artifical one imposed on by me. I am fortunate in that I don’t work, so I have the time during the day to rest and relax when needed. By getting the sleep I need, and finding new ways to manage my pain, I’m starting to feel a bit better.

I missed writing, but I think I took time off at the right moment. I’ve basically been housebound since Covid-19 hit – I’ve been out of the house 5 times and all of them have been for medical reasons except for one dinner out. I’m an introvert by nature so it hasn’t been a problem for me to be home alone. My husband is still working as he is an essential employee at his job (supervising at a homeless shelter).

There really hasn’t been much new to write about but I want to make this blog a bit more personal. I’m still planning on adding information pieces for everyone so you can remain educated and empowered, but I’d like to share more of myself in my posts and how Chronic Illness affects me.

Look for posts to be published once a week, typically on Wednesdays. If you have suggestions for subject materials please leave them in the comments below. I’m happy to write about what you want to read.

Thanks for sticking with me during this hiatus. I didn’t lose too many readers and I’m really proud of that. Feel free to share this blog with anyone you know who is living with Chronic Illness. Growth is a good thing!

Remember,

Taking A Hiatus (and this is not an April Fool’s joke)

Dear Readers,

I will be taking a short hiatus from blogging as I am dealing with some issues related to my Bipolar Disorder. I have been in a BD depression for several weeks now and have had some days so bad, I considered suicide.

The main issue is that I need to change my medications again as my current regiment has stopped working. I have been living with debilitating brain zaps that feel like an electrical current zipping through my brain. These leave me feeling dizzy and disoriented, and being on the computer is difficult during those times.

I will be back!! I refuse to let this defeat me, but I do need to take some time away until I have my BD back under control. It’s hard enough living with the physical pain of Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis, D.I.S.H., and more, but adding the mental health burden has become too much.

Thank you for your loyalty. Comments are appreciated.

Pamela

All About Parkinson’s Disease

April is Parkinson’s Disease Month and I wanted to talk to you all briefly about this condition as part of my mandate to highlight “invisible diseases”.

Although there can be some visible signs when you have Parkinson’s Disease, it often starts out very subtle and hard to notice. A tremour in one hand might be the only outward sign in the beginning.

Here is an overview taken from the Mayo Clinic website. Click on the link for the full description on Parkinson’s Disease including Testing, Treatments and Living with Parkinson’s.

Overview

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Symptoms start gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. Tremors are common, but the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.

In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, your face may show little or no expression. Your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred. Parkinson’s disease symptoms worsen as your condition progresses over time.

Although Parkinson’s disease can’t be cured, medications might significantly improve your symptoms. Occasionally, your doctor may suggest surgery to regulate certain regions of your brain and improve your symptoms.

Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease signs and symptoms can be different for everyone. Early signs may be mild and go unnoticed. Symptoms often begin on one side of your body and usually remain worse on that side, even after symptoms begin to affect both sides.

Parkinson’s signs and symptoms may include:

  • Tremor. A tremor, or shaking, usually begins in a limb, often your hand or fingers. You may a rub your thumb and forefinger back-and-forth, known as a pill-rolling tremor. Your hand may tremor when it’s at rest.
  • Slowed movement (bradykinesia). Over time, Parkinson’s disease may slow your movement, making simple tasks difficult and time-consuming. Your steps may become shorter when you walk. It may be difficult to get out of a chair. You may drag your feet as you try to walk.
  • Rigid muscles. Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body. The stiff muscles can be painful and limit your range of motion.
  • Impaired posture and balance. Your posture may become stooped, or you may have balance problems as a result of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Loss of automatic movements. You may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk.
  • Speech changes. You may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before talking. Your speech may be more of a monotone rather than with the usual inflections.
  • Writing changes. It may become hard to write, and your writing may appear small.

When To See A Doctor

See your doctor if you have any of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease — not only to diagnose your condition but also to rule out other causes for your symptoms.

Causes

In Parkinson’s disease, certain nerve cells (neurons) in the brain gradually break down or die. Many of the symptoms are due to a loss of neurons that produce a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. When dopamine levels decrease, it causes abnormal brain activity, leading to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but several factors appear to play a role, including:

  • Your genes. Researchers have identified specific genetic mutations that can cause Parkinson’s disease. But these are uncommon except in rare cases with many family members affected by Parkinson’s disease.However, certain gene variations appear to increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease but with a relatively small risk of Parkinson’s disease for each of these genetic markers.
  • Environmental triggers. Exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors may increase the risk of later Parkinson’s disease, but the risk is relatively small.

Researchers have also noted that many changes occur in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, although it’s not clear why these changes occur. These changes include:

  • The presence of Lewy bodies. Clumps of specific substances within brain cells are microscopic markers of Parkinson’s disease. These are called Lewy bodies, and researchers believe these Lewy bodies hold an important clue to the cause of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Alpha-synuclein is found within Lewy bodies. Although many substances are found within Lewy bodies, scientists believe an important one is the natural and widespread protein called alpha-synuclein (a-synuclein). It’s found in all Lewy bodies in a clumped form that cells can’t break down. This is currently an important focus among Parkinson’s disease researchers.

Risk factors

Risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Age. Young adults rarely experience Parkinson’s disease. It ordinarily begins in middle or late life, and the risk increases with age. People usually develop the disease around age 60 or older.
  • Heredity. Having a close relative with Parkinson’s disease increases the chances that you’ll develop the disease. However, your risks are still small unless you have many relatives in your family with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Sex. Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than are women.
  • Exposure to toxins. Ongoing exposure to herbicides and pesticides may slightly increase your risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Complications

Parkinson’s disease is often accompanied by these additional problems, which may be treatable:

  • Thinking difficulties. You may experience cognitive problems (dementia) and thinking difficulties. These usually occur in the later stages of Parkinson’s disease. Such cognitive problems aren’t very responsive to medications.
  • Depression and emotional changes. You may experience depression, sometimes in the very early stages. Receiving treatment for depression can make it easier to handle the other challenges of Parkinson’s disease.You may also experience other emotional changes, such as fear, anxiety or loss of motivation. Doctors may give you medications to treat these symptoms.
  • Swallowing problems. You may develop difficulties with swallowing as your condition progresses. Saliva may accumulate in your mouth due to slowed swallowing, leading to drooling.
  • Chewing and eating problems. Late-stage Parkinson’s disease affects the muscles in your mouth, making chewing difficult. This can lead to choking and poor nutrition.
  • Sleep problems and sleep disorders. People with Parkinson’s disease often have sleep problems, including waking up frequently throughout the night, waking up early or falling asleep during the day.People may also experience rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, which involves acting out your dreams. Medications may help your sleep problems.
  • Bladder problems. Parkinson’s disease may cause bladder problems, including being unable to control urine or having difficulty urinating.
  • Constipation. Many people with Parkinson’s disease develop constipation, mainly due to a slower digestive tract.

You may also experience:

  • Blood pressure changes. You may feel dizzy or lightheaded when you stand due to a sudden drop in blood pressure (orthostatic hypotension).
  • Smell dysfunction. You may experience problems with your sense of smell. You may have difficulty identifying certain odors or the difference between odors.
  • Fatigue. Many people with Parkinson’s disease lose energy and experience fatigue, especially later in the day. The cause isn’t always known.
  • Pain. Some people with Parkinson’s disease experience pain, either in specific areas of their bodies or throughout their bodies.
  • Sexual dysfunction. Some people with Parkinson’s disease notice a decrease in sexual desire or performance.

Treatment

There are a number of different drugs that may be utilized in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. The most popular include:

  • Carbidopa-levodopa. Levodopa, the most effective Parkinson’s disease medication, is a natural chemical that passes into your brain and is converted to dopamine.
  • Carbidopa-levodopa infusion.
  • Dopamine agonists.
  • MAO B inhibitors.

There is also a surgical option that may prove helpful. This article tells more about it, also from the Mayo Clinic.

For those who are interested in using CBD Oil, this article may prove helpful.

Remember,

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How to Live Life Well with Fibromyalgia

Please enjoy this Guest Post by Dr. Brent Wells

Living life with fibromyalgia comes with its challenges. The pain, fatigue, and brain fog can feel defeating and difficult to deal with. However, just because you are living with this tricky condition, it does not mean you cannot live a wonderful healthy life at the same time. 

While it may take a while to find a combination of things that makes you feel the best and the strongest, you can take solace in the fact you will get there one day! You can live life well with fibromyalgia and in this article, we are going to give you some of the best tips for making that happen. 

There is a wide variety of options to choose from but not everything will work for everyone. Your results and success will vary, so it is important to keep in mind that patience and experimentation is key to finding options that will work best for your body. 

Seek Help from a Medical Professional 

Although it may sound like an obvious thing, you need to make sure you are seeing a doctor or other health care professional to help you manage your fibromyalgia. Whether you are seeking treatment from a conventional doctor, holistic doctor, etc., keeping up with their medications, herbs, supplements, and the like will ensure that your condition is managed properly. 

Untreated fibromyalgia will only get worse over time and leave you feeling sick, in pain, and completely depleted of energy. Therefore, it is key to stick to your treatment regime as defined by your doctor of choice. 

Exercise 

Although exercise might be the last thing you want to do when you feel like you are in so much pain, keeping an exercise routine will actually help manage your pain and other symptoms. Namely, it can be extremely beneficial for managing your fatigue. 

You don’t need to go crazy with exercise though. Simply walking and swimming on a weekly basis is all you need. About 20 to 30 minutes per session 3 days a week is enough to feel the effects. 

Another great way to build your strength is through weight training. Speak with your health care professional about the proper way to go about including this type of exercise into your workout regimen. 

Get Enough Sleep 

As with everyone, getting enough good quality sleep is important to feeling your best on a daily basis. But getting more sleep is even more important for those suffering from fibromyalgia. It can be difficult to sleep well with this condition because of the pain, restless leg syndrome, and the challenges of getting comfortable in bed at night. 

But a few tips will help you sleep better at night. 

If you go to sleep ad wake up at the same time each morning, this establishes a routine for your body. Eventually your body and brain will learn the time frame in which you sleep, and it will make it easier to go to sleep and stay asleep.

You can also take some time to wind down before going to sleep. Take a bath, diffuse some calming essential oils, read a book, or practice a meditation routine before bedtime. These things will help your body and mind relax. 

Eat a Healthy Diet 

Eating a healthy and balanced diet with lots of fruits, veggies, and whole-grain will also keep you feeling healthy and strong. Many patients with fibromyalgia often have low levels of vitamin D, so focusing on foods with higher levels of vitamin D can help as well. 

Interestingly, one study suggests that those who eat a mostly raw vegetarian diet improved their symptoms and felt better overall.

Consider Chiropractic Adjustments 

Seeing a chiropractor is another way you can help manage your pain and improve range of motion, so you can feel your best and live your best life. A study showed that chiropractic intervention helped manage patients pain levels, improved range of motion in the lumbar and cervical regions of the body and helped with leg raises as well. 

By loosening stiff joints and making adjustments to the spine, you can feel much better in no time. Overall, chiropractic care is a good option for Fibromyalgia and a natural and healthy way to give you the best most normal life possible with this condition. 

Try Massage Therapy 

Another great option to try that is a bit less intimidating than going to the chiropractor is to opt for massage therapy. Massage therapy is great because it is soothing, relaxing, and helps ease any pain you may be experiencing. Many chiropractic offices also offer free massage therapy like in my clinic in Anchorage

Studies suggest that massage therapy significantly helps pain, anxiety, and depression in fibromyalgia patients. Much of the time patients feel immediate effects making is an effective and fast option for those who feel like they need some relief as fast as possible. 

In the end, living with fibromyalgia comes with its challenges and ups and downs. But as with most things in life, this is normal and okay. The good news is there are so many things you can do to help improve your symptoms and live your best life even with the frustrating issues associated with this condition. 

Although it may take some time and experimentation, and speaking with your healthcare professional, you are sure to find something that works for you so you can get to feeling your absolute best in no time at all!

About Dr. Brent Wells

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. is the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.

Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.

Let’s Learn about D.I.S.H.

spine_general_DISH_intro01Forestier’s Disease is a rare form of degenerative arthritis. More commonly known as diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH), this disease attacks the ligaments of the body and turns them to bone.

The process is caused by the buildup of calcium salts in the ligaments and tendons, creating abnormal new bone growth (ossification). Doctors are unsure what causes this process to occur, but some suspect there is a genetic component. The hardening of the ligaments leads to joint stiffness and eventual loss of mobility.

DISH can occur in any part of the body, but most commonly affects the spine and lower back. Some people have DISH in their neck ligaments, which can make swallowing difficult. Other areas affected include the shoulders, elbows, ribs, knees, feet and ankles.

When it attacks the ligaments of the feet and ankles, DISH results in heel spurs, small sharp growths of bone that appear along the heel. DISH can be progressive. As it worsens, it can cause serious complications.

 

Causes of DISH

  • Sex. Men are more likely to develop DISH than women.
  • Age. DISH is most common in older adults, especially in people older than 50.
  • Diabetes and other conditions. People with type 2 diabetes might be more likely to develop DISH than are those who don’t have diabetes. Other conditions that can raise insulin levels in your body may also increase your risk, including hyperinsulinemia, prediabetes and obesity.
  • Certain medications. Long-term use of medications called retinoids, such as isotretinoin (Amnesteem, Claravis, others), which are used to treat skin conditions such as acne, can increase your risk.

Symptoms of DISH

DISH does not initially produce symptoms. As it progresses, you might experience:

  • pain and stiffness in your joints, especially in the morningSymptoms of DISH
  • loss of motion in your feet, lower back and other affected areas
  • inability to stretch fully
  • pain in your back, knee or heel
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Tingling, numbness, and/or weakness in the legs
  • Spinal fractures and increased risk of breaking other affected bones
  • Compressed or pinched nerves (radiculopathy)
  • Compressed spinal cord (myelopathy) which can lead to partial or complete paralysis of the legs and/or arms (paraparesis, tetraparesis)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Hoarse voice or difficulty speaking (dysphonia)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Decreased lung capacity (if DISH affects the ribs)
  • Difficulty breathing possibly due to airway obstruction

You should always consult a doctor if you’re experiencing pain and stiffness or if you have bone spurs.

Complications

In most cases, DISH causes mild discomfort, allowing patients who have it to live with the symptoms through a combination of pain relievers, stretching exercises, other interventions and in rare cases, surgery to remove bone growth.

For others, the disease may continue to progress which can result in a complete loss of mobility in the affected joints. For instance, if you have DISH in your shoulder, it can make it difficult to raise your arm or move it in all its natural positions.

Fractures are a serious complication of DISH because the stiffness of your tendons makes your bones more likely to fracture if you’re injured.

One huge drawback with DISH is that the pain and stiffness can mimic many other conditions, so proper diagnosis and treatment is essential.

Diagnosis and Treatment

DISH Thoracic_spine_AP

An xray shows the skeletal changes of a DISH patient in the Thoracic Spine.

A diagnosis of diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) is often suspected by the signs and symptoms a person has. X-rays can confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, a computed tomography (CT scan) and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be ordered to rule out other diseases that cause the same symptoms.  All three types of imaging studies may be used to see which other areas of the skeleton are affected by DISH.

There is no cure for DISH, but you can

  • Treat underlying conditions. If you have diabetes or another condition associated with insulin resistance, getting that condition under control will help minimize the symptoms of DISH. Maintaining a healthy weight will also help.
  • Get pain relief. Ask a podiatrist for pain relievers that can treat joint stiffness in your legs, feet, and ankles. Your doctor might prescribe corticosteroid injections for more severe pain.
  • Increase mobility. Gentle stretching exercises can keep your ligaments from becoming overly stiff and brittle. Ask your doctor to recommend a regimen for your joints that will keep them moving. Walking, bicycling, and Aqua exercises are all excellent ways to stay mobile.

My Personal Experience

I was diagnosed with DISH in 2014 after going to the Emergency Room for chest pain. After a number of tests were done, including a CT Scan, the doctor informed me that they had discovered I had DISH in my Thoracic Spine (after ruling out heart problems for the chest pain).

I had always had pain and stiffness in my spine but assumed it was “regular” arthritis, as I have Osteoarthritis throughout my body. Finding out it was something different came as a surprise to me. I discovered that because I have Diabetes Type 2, it was likely a contributing factor. In the years since the diagnosis, I have developed bone spurs in my left ankle, and the DISH has spread to include my Lumbar spine as well as the Thoracic spine. The bone spurs on my spine look more like melted candle wax than actual spurs which is typical for this disease.

I find the stiffness is the most difficult part of having DISH. The sensation is like trying to stretch, but never quite getting enough range of motion, so you’re left feeling “incomplete.” It’s almost like one good “pop” would make things better. I do stretching exercises and use a foam roller to help minimize the stiffness, and I’m conscious of my voice as well. I’ve developed some hoarseness over the years which could indicate that the DISH has affected my cervical spine.

I don’t take any additional medication for DISH with the exception of an occasional muscle relaxant if my back is particularly stiff. By relaxing the muscles around the spine, I get some relief from the stiffness that is part of DISH. I find that my stretching exercises are usually effective enough to bring relief. Heat sometimes helps with the stiffness as well, and a good muscle rub or magnesium rub can make a difference in pain levels as well.

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Conclusion

If you are experiencing pain and stiffness in the spine or noticing that you are developing bone spurs on your feet (or hands), consult with your doctor and ask about whether DISH could be causing your problems. X-rays and/or other imaging tests can help to determine if there are problems with the ligaments or if there is increased bone growth.

Discovering DISH early can help you get a treatment plan in place to provide relief. Although DISH is considered “rare”, it seems like it’s becoming more predominant than in the past so the sooner you get a diagnosis, the better.

Remember,

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Pet Therapy for Chronic Illness

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

Fibromyalgia can be a lonely disease. Staying connected with friends and family becomes difficult when chronic pain and fatigue make it hard to get out and about like you used to. Sometimes, having a pet can make all the difference in the world!

Not only will a furry friend give you some companionship, but it turns out that pet therapy can actually be a pretty effective way of dealing with fibromyalgia pain. Here’s how it works.

What Is Pet Therapy

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Pet therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal. It also involves the animal’s handler. The purpose of pet therapy is to help someone recover from or cope with a health problem or mental disorder. Basically, it involves using specially trained animals like cats and dogs to provide comfort to people who suffer from diseases like fibromyalgia, cancer, dementia, etc. The animals provide companionship while the patient pets or plays with them, reducing the amount of stress and pain they feel.

The biggest concern when it comes to pet therapy is making sure that the animals are well-trained and vaccinated. Because pet therapy is often done in hospitals, doctors want to be sure that a dog won’t get loose and run around contaminating the area.

With that being said, pet therapy, when done by a professional, is perfectly safe and can be very effective in treating fibromyalgia pain.

What Are The Benefits Of Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Interacting with a friendly pet can help many physical and mental issues. It can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. It can also release endorphins that produce a calming effect. This can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and improve your overall psychological state.

How Can Pet Therapy Ease Fibromyalgia Pain?

siamese cat
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While the idea that simply petting a cat or dog can actually help your fibromyalgia pain seems a little far-fetched, there’s some basic science that backs it up. You see, petting an animal has been shown to cause your body to release lower levels of cortisol, which is the hormone linked to stress. And cortisol levels are directly linked to the amount of pain people with fibromyalgia feel.

And in addition to helping deal with your fibromyalgia pain, pet therapy also has other benefits. Depression and anxiety are both common among people with fibromyalgia, and it turns out that pet therapy can also help significantly with those symptoms. People who engage in pet therapy report consistently lower levels of stress and anxiety than people who don’t. There’s something about stroking a companion animal that lends a level of comfort to people who are suffering.

And taking care of an animal also helps people with fibromyalgia get more involved in daily life. Taking the animal on walks or playing with them in the park are great ways to coax yourself out of bed. And that’s especially true on days when your fibro pain makes you want to just close the curtains and go to sleep. So, a therapy animal can even be a link to the rest of the world when you have fibromyalgia.

So pet therapy can not only help you reduce your fibromyalgia pain, it can help you feel happier and less anxious.

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How Can You Start?

woman wearing gray jacket beside white puppy
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Your doctor or therapist managing your treatment will administer pet therapy. A trained handler, often the pet’s owner, will take the animal to every meeting and work under your doctor or therapist’s direction to help you reach your goals. In most cases, the handlers work as volunteers. Discussion of proper pet handling is needed to ensure the safety of both the person receiving treatment and the pet.

Or if you prefer, you can also purchase your own animal that has been trained to be a therapy animal. There are lots of different breeders and trainers. And one should be able to help you find what you are looking for. A quick google search should be enough to find some in your area.

So maybe you’re the kind of person who hates having to leave their loyal pet behind. Well, getting them certified to provide therapy means that you can get comfort from them anywhere you go. And that can be a great thing when you’re suddenly struck by a fibromyalgia flare-up during your daily routine.

Animals make great companions, and it turns out that they might actually be great for treating fibromyalgia pain too. So if you’re tired of trying side-effect riddled medications, some alternative pet therapy may just be for you.

Outlook

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Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

The success of pet therapy depends on establishing realistic goals and expectations and meeting those goals. You and your doctor or therapist will establish these goals at the beginning of your treatment. You’ll also discuss how to reach those goals and how long it will take.

Your doctor or therapist will monitor your progress and help you stay on track to meet your goals. If your progress is slower or faster than expected, they may alter your treatment plan. Remember,

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Going to the ER as a Chronic Illness Patient (and how to improve the Situation)

I want to talk about a subject that every person with Chronic Pain is familiar with and probably dreads…

Going to the Emergency Room

There are several reasons why people with Chronic Pain in particular hate going to the ER.  Here are some of the top reasons that have been shared with me over the years.

1. Fear of Being Labelled a Drug Seeker

This is perhaps the top reason most people with Chronic Pain list when it comes to the Emergency Room. Even when you live with a sure diagnosis of a medical condition, if you arrive at the ER in pain for whatever reason, you run the risk of being labelled. This is especially true if you already take narcotic pain medications to treat your condition.

You can present with symptoms entirely unrelated to your chronic illness, but doctors still question you about your reason for being there. If you happen to show up with pain for a reason that’s obvious (a broken bone for example), you still have to deal with some measures of disbelief – it’s happened to more than one person I know. In fact, one friend was asked if she had broken her hand deliberately to get drugs. Scary!

If the reason for your pain isn’t immediately obvious, your risk for being labelled increases and you may even find your treatment to be slower than others around you. Doctors seem to believe that since we already live with Chronic Pain, we can certainly manage “a bit more” without issue. This is a long-held misconception that needs to be addressed in hospitals around the world.

2. Fear of Needing More Pain Medication

You wouldn’t initially think that needing pain medication would be an issue, but when you live with Chronic Pain, you’re probably already taking a drugstore’s worth of medication to manage symptoms and side effects.

Adding more pain medication to our bodies may help in many ways, but we tend to run the risk of more side effects than other people, thus adding to our stress. I happen to be sensitive to Morphine – I have problems breathing, and get severe body twitching, nausea and itching. While all those things can be treated with additional medications, why go through all that when Fentanyl works fine?

The problem with this is when I tell doctors I can’t take morphine and the reasons why, it makes me sound like a drug seeker, saying I would like Fentanyl instead. My requirements are legitimate but it can come out sounding very suspicious. Stressful!!

3. Fear of Being Out of Our Comfort Zone

I hate to go to the Emergency Room and will do everything in my power to prevent it, even living with increased pain, because of the stress of being out of my comfort zone – my home. I know I’m going to be subjected to sounds and lights that are difficult for me to manage in the best of circumstances.

I’m going to have to wait for long periods of time to see anyone, my treatment may be delayed if the doctor has concerns about my use of Opioids for pain management (see above), and my pain levels and stress are going to rise the longer I am there. This is in addition to whatever the reason is that brought me to the ER to begin with. I’m already stressed and these added things just make the whole situation more challenging.

4. Fight or Flight Reaction

If I end up with a doctor who doesn’t believe my pain is legitimate, my adrenaline or “fight or flight” reflex becomes engaged. I suddenly find myself having to defend my original illness, along with dealing with the reason I’m there to start with. I don’t want to get into a fight with a doctor if I DO need pain meds – I want them to help me by recognizing my need is real.

For this reason, if treatment is taking a long time, some people choose to “give up” and just go home to live with more pain. This then backfires when you truly can’t handle the pain on your own, and back you go, like a yo-yo. It reduces your credibility as a patient. Unfortunately, when you are treated badly by the ER doctors, it’s hard to sit by and put up with that. Stress increases again, and with that stress comes more pain…which causes more stress.

It’s a circle of misery that could easily be handled if doctors would stop and listen to us right from the start. Too many times, we’re not given the opportunity to speak up and share what’s going on once they find out we have Chronic Pain. You could have a broken arm with bones sticking through, but as soon as doctors hear “Chronic Pain”, they seem to harbour certain assumptions about you.

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5. Wondering if My Pain IS Legitimate

When you live with Chronic Pain for whatever type of condition, there’s a good chance you’re going to have multiple symptoms of your illness. If that illness is flaring up beyond your control and you go to the Emergency Room for help, you may question yourself on whether you really need to be there.

Sure, you live with pain daily, but is this so urgent that your doctor can’t take care of it in the next day or so? Well, it’s a tough call, but I’ve always believed that if you are in enough pain to consider going to the ER, you should probably GO to the ER!!

Now is not the time to second guess yourself. For example, I once experienced chest and jaw pain that was different from anything I’d felt before. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack, but the pain was unbearable and I knew it wasn’t going to respond to heat packs or ice packs.

It turned out I was having a severe and unusual reaction to a new Diabetes drug I had just started and I was hospitalized for 3 days while a bunch of tests were run, and then to let me rest on IV’s and pain medications. In hindsight, nothing bad would have happened to me if I’d stayed home, except I’d have been in excruciating pain for days. I would have gone to see my Family Doctor asap, but I’d also have put myself in misery for days that I didn’t need to be in pain.

By following my instincts, I received top notch care and was treated legitimately like a person who was in pain and needed help.

Ways to Improve Your Emergency Room Visit

There are several things you can do in advance to help improve your visit to an Emergency Room.

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1. Make Sure You Have a Regular Family Doctor

Even if your ER visit is for something completely unrelated to your Chronic Pain, having a regular Family Physician shows that you are dealing with your health on a regular basis. This helps to legitimize yourself as someone who cares about their overall health and is doing everything they can to help themselves.

What happens if you don’t have a Family Physician? In some countries, finding a Family Doctor is next to impossible. Attending the same Walk-In Clinic or Urgent Care Centre is the next best thing you can do for yourself, along with getting your prescriptions written by the same location.

2. Try to See Your Family Doctor First

If it’s at all possible, try to see your Family Physician before going to the ER. If you can, take a letter from the doctor with you explaining his findings and recommendations. This can help to speed up service in the ER (though it doesn’t always work).

Depending on the circumstances, this shows you’re using the emergency room as your treatment of last resort, as opposed to the primary place you go for pain medication.

3. Get Your Prescriptions Filled by the Same Pharmacy

One way to ensure legitimacy regarding your medications is to have them all filled at the same pharmacy. This allows doctors to do a quick search to make sure you’re not getting multiple prescriptions filled by multiple doctors.

4. Bring a List Of Your Medications with You

At a minimum, try to bring a list of your medications and dosages with you to the ER. If possible, take the actual bottles with you. This goes a long way to showing the ER doctors that you have legitimate health concerns, and that you know what you’re taking and why.

You might want to consider having a letter from your doctor on hand that outlines your Chronic condition and the treatment plan you are under. If you are going to the ER because of a problem relating to your condition, it can help to speed things up for the doctors if they know what’s been done in the past.

5. Co-operate with The ER Personnel

This may seem like common sense, but when we’re in a panic because of pain and/or injury, we tend to forget our normal sensibilities. Try not to become demanding when you get to the Emergency Room. You’re not the only one there and you have no idea what the other patients are going through.

Your pain or injury may very well be serious, but will be triaged appropriately according to the nurses. YOU might not agree with their assessment but without knowing the big picture, it’s impossible for you to say you’re the most critical person to be seen, even if you feel that way.

Work with the ER personnel, stay calm and cooperative and you’ll generally find yourself being treated respectfully by nurses and doctors who genuinely care about your health and well being.

Conversations with Emergency Room Doctors

For an excellent list of ways to communicate with the ER doctors to ensure you get quality care, this article from Practical Pain Management is a great patient resource. It provides you with things you should and shouldn’t say to make your ER visit most effective.

Speak Up!

I do a lot of Patient Advocacy volunteer work and was speaking at a conference full of doctors. I told them of being mistreated as a drug seeker at one Emergency Room I went to when the pain from my Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia was overwhelming me. The doctors there assumed because I was in pain, pain medication is what I was looking for.

I wasn’t seeking pain meds (they wouldn’t have worked) but treatment in another form (I had the protocol written down from a specialist), so it was especially frustrating to not be heard.

One of the doctors at the conference spoke up and told me that on behalf of doctors everywhere, he apologized for that kind of treatment and said that it was unacceptable. He said that all ER personnel need to check themselves at the door before bringing in attitudes like that…his belief is that if someone presents at the ER in pain, they are there because they’re in pain. It’s up to the ER docs to determine if it’s physical or mental and how to best treat the patient, no matter what.

I was so touched by his comments…and I told him that the best thing he and everyone else in that room could do was to believe their patient. Yes, there are going to be drug seekers, but the majority of people who show up at the ER don’t want to be there, but have no choice. Believe them, listen to them and help them. It’s really that simple.

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Let’s Learn About CBD and Cannabis

Today, I’m featuring a guest post by author Bojana Petkovic, Project Manager at Loud Cloud Health

CBD and Cannabis: How They Benefit Our Health and Society 

The good news is that millions of researchers in the field of medicine, pharmacology, and biochemistry put a lot of effort into exploring cannabis and its main cannabinoids. Thanks to research, cannabis and its incredible benefits are quickly gaining momentum. Let’s take a look at some basic facts and stats.

What Makes Cannabis Worth Researching?

Humankind has been familiar with this plant for at least 5,000 years. Throughout history, many people have consumed it as medicine through food and beverages. Some of the most acknowledged effects of cannabis include killing all sorts of pain, helping cancer patients, improving mental health, etc. That is why a growing number of the world’s governments consider decriminalizing or fully legalizing it. 

The plant has an incredible number of complex substances in its buds, fan leaves, and stems. Those substances are called cannabinoids. There are ten most significant ones recognized by modern medicine, two of them being CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). 

Even though the research has been fruitful, scientists believe there is still a lot more to know about cannabis’s benevolent nature. 

What Do We Know About CBD and Cannabis?

First and foremost, we are aware that CBD successfully relieves symptoms such as chronic pain, cramps, and tissue inflammation. Such symptoms are common in diseases like arthritis, fibromyalgia, rheumatism, and numerous other musculoskeletal conditions that typically trouble the senior population. According to the study conducted at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, CBD tends to reduce arthritic and back pain, leaving trauma-related pain behind as well.

Types of Pain - Chronic Pain

Mental disorders and illnesses are common for all age groups. The typical symptoms include anxiety, mood swings, dementia, and insomnia. Less common ones include severe psychosis.  

CBD appears remarkably advantageous in this field of medicine. Research by Bonn-Miller suggests the importance of medicinal cannabis to those who have PTSD by helping them sleep and cope with trauma. Another study from 2006 explains that as much as cannabis might instigate a more regular use, depression and psychotic disorders should be treated with it. Less agitation, more sleep, and success in battling constant anxiety are just some reasons why cannabis should be used in different treatments. 

In adults, CBD and cannabis can help cure more severe addictions. Such addictions include heavy opioids, alcohol, and of course, prescription drugs. That may seem paradoxical since cannabis needs to be used in moderation as some forms can cause dependence. Addiction statistics reveal that adequate use of cannabis helped 26% of people who consumed heroin to opt out of it and smoke marijuana instead. Some 40% of alcohol addicts chose to do so as well. Additionally, 66% of prescription drug addicts switched to cannabis for good. 

Word of Warning

Though cannabis sounds like a miracle plant, that doesn’t mean it has no side effects. THC is mainly known for being psychoactive, while CBD can induce nausea, dizziness, or dry mouth. Most of these occur if one consumes too much. Cannabis use disorder is a form of dependence, so it is of ultimate importance to use the plant responsibly, and always consult a doctor if you have a condition.

What Can We Anticipate in the Future?

Thanks to technological advancement, we are about to see the new and incredible benefits of this plant. We should not fail to mention that, through further legalization and decriminalization, a large number of people will have job opportunities within cannabusiness. This industry has no intention to leave its upward trajectory. Au contraire, it will most probably be “the next big thing.”

Infographic URL: https://loudcloudhealth.com/pros-and-cons-of-weed-infographic/

Thanks for reading and remember:

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