Archive for arthritis

Health and the Season

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth, Mental Health with tags , , on August 10, 2019 by telescoper

After I came out as having arthritis a few months ago, I’m sure all both my readers are agog to hear news about the state of my knees. There’s only good news to report, actually. The warmer weather seems to have brought considerable respite. I have not taken any anti-inflammatory medicine for a couple of months now, and have largely dispensed with the walking stick too (at least for the time being). I still get the odd twinge, but nothing compared to what things were like during the winter.

I ended my earlier post about this with this paragraph:

One other thing worth mentioning is that this condition does seem to be highly temperature-dependent. This last week the weather suddenly turned a lot colder and the arthritis definitely got worse. Perhaps in future I could learn to use the colour of my knees as some kind of forecasting method?

Talk to anyone who suffers from arthritis and they will tell you a similar story – it gets worse in cold and/or damp weather. Talk to any medical expert, however, and they will tell you that there’s very little hard evidence about this and what evidence there is suggests that the effect is very weak. See, for example, this paper, which has the following abstract:

It is a common observation that pain and stiffness in patients known to have arthritis get worse in cold and damp weather conditions. The objective of this article is to review the available literature on this subject and to put forward an explanation for this common clinical finding. Literature search revealed twelve relevant articles including laboratory experiments and prospective questionnaire-based human studies. Various investigators have tried to study the effect of cold weather on arthritic symptoms and have suggested different theories. The effect of temperature changes localized to the joints has shown to increase stiffness at lower temperatures and decrease stiffness at higher temperatures. The effect of these changes has been found more pronounced in elderly population with arthritis and patients with advanced disease. The evidence to support this common observation is weak; however some studies have reported a trend towards worsening of pain and stiffness with falling temperature and barometric pressure in arthritic patients.

Among the problems associated with studying such effects is the issue of how to measure `pain’ in a reliable way. It may be in the winter people are generally less upbeat about their health which may affect the way they self-report the state of their arthritis. And even if one could measure the level of pain objectively, there are obvious confounding factors: people are generally more active during the summer months, for example, which may help ease joint pain. And what aspect of the weather really matters: temperature, humidity or atmospheric pressure? These tend to be correlated in complicated ways.

All I can say is that the last couple of months have been far better for me. Whether that is because of some direct causative influence of the weather or not I can’t say.

While I am on about health and the time of year, I’ll comment on another personal matter. Seven years ago I was suffering some serious mental health problems, which resulted in me being for some time on an acute ward in a psychiatric institution. That happened in July 2012. I’ve dreaded the arrival of July every year since because it reminds me of that very bad period in my life and I worry that might bring on something similar again. This year, though, has been much better. I can’t attribute this entirely to my move here to Ireland, but the change of scene has undoubtedly contributed.

As a final comment I’ll just say that 31st July was the third anniversary of my leaving Sussex (in 2016) to return to Cardiff on a three-year part-time contract back. I was planning to take early retirement when that expired, but things seem to have turned out rather differently. Things have a habit of doing that. Then again, if life were predictable it would be very dull. Anyway, it was very nice to meet up with quite a few former colleagues from Cardiff during recent week off, including at their summer barbecue at Llandaff. It seems quite a few will be spending the next week or so marking repeat resit examinations, so let me take this opportunity to wish them all the very best!

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The Arthritic Cosmological Principle

Posted in Biographical with tags , on April 7, 2019 by telescoper

When I attended a meeting recently quite a few people expressed concern about my health given that I turned up with a walking-stick. I’ve actually been using one on occasions for quite a few months now, and it may well become a regular accessory, so to avoid anyone else I meet wondering what’s going on I thought I’d post a brief explanation.

Over the past six months or so I’ve had an increasing problem with swelling and stiffness in my knees. This is worst in the morning when I’ve just got out of bed, in which situation my knees are invariably bright red.

You can see what I mean in the picture here (viewer discretion advised). The stiffness sometimes makes me a bit wobbly on my pins and makes it a bit tricky dealing with stairs. I use the stick more for balance than anything else, and once I get going I can walk quite comfortably. I spent most of a day walking around Copenhagen without ill effects when I visited there in February.

I’ve been to the doctor several times about this and, although I’m still waiting for various test results, it’s clear that I have some form of arthritis. For the time being I’m just taking an anti-inflammatory drug which is quite effective at reducing the swelling. In due course I may be put on other medication, possibly involving a course of injections, and maybe even surgery. I’ll just have to wait and see about that.

The important thing is that, although I’m not exactly thrilled to have arthritis, I’m not in any real pain. It’s just a bit uncomfortable, that’s all, though that does make it hard to concentrate sometimes and it has impacted on my capacity to work long hours. I am sorry that I have missed some deadlines as a result.

You may or may not know that I used to run a lot when I was younger, including a few marathons and half-marathons. This has caused me some problems with my knees before, and I had minor surgery (arthroscopy) about 15 years ago to help with this. That procedure went pretty well, but I was warned that I was a relatively high risk for arthritis. It looks like the doctor wasn’t wrong! My running days are well and truly over, that’s for sure.

One other thing worth mentioning is that this condition does seem to be highly temperature-dependent. This last week the weather suddenly turned a lot colder and the arthritis definitely got worse. Perhaps in future I could learn to use the colour of my knees as some kind of forecasting method?

Cat Call

Posted in Columbo with tags , , , on June 16, 2011 by telescoper

Just time for a quick post today, as I’m off to the airport this afternoon for a short trip (which I’ll no doubt blog about at the weekend when I get back). I’m also late into the office because I had to take my cat Columbo to the vet for his six-monthly check-up.

Columbo is now 17 years old (and a few months) and has been diabetic for the last six or seven of those. He needs to have a check-up every 6 months primarily to monitor whether his insulin dose (which is administered twice a day) is adequate to control his blood sugar level. The vet also gives him a general medical, and weighs him, during these visits.

This morning Columbo was even more reluctant than usual to get into his box for the trip to the vets. Eventually I got him in, but was apprehensive. Usually when he’s in that sort of mood he retaliates by befouling the box. This time, however, he settled down quite quickly and there were no toiletary disasters en route. The vet’s waiting room was empty when we arrived at 9am so we got seen straight away.

The vet was impressed by his age, especially when she saw how long he has been diabetic. Even without this condition 16 is a pretty good age for a tom cat. Columbo has been through a number of serious medical episodes, at least a couple of which took him near death, but he has always managed to bounce back. He may be an old boy now, but he gets 10/10 for resilience. Looking back over his (substantial) medical history, the vet seems to be amazed by his powers of recovery although history is now definitely taking its toll and he’s looking a bit frail nowadays.

The vet noted the effects of the advancing years. His eyesight has clearly dimmed. He’s never been very good at catching birds and mice, but I think he struggles even to see them nowadays. Despite the glucosamine treatment he has been having, his arthritis has also deteriorated. The stiffness in his joints makes it difficult for him to groom himself, so his coat isn’t in great condition even though I brush him regularly. He’s also lost a bit of weight since the last visit; not enough to be life-threatening, but significant nevertheless.

On the other hand, his heartbeat and other vital signs seem to be in order, and he purred contentedly on the table during the examination. The vet was a little concerned about his weight loss, but said he clearly wasn’t in any discomfort and trying to prod and probe, take blood samples and whatever to find out the reason was just going to cause him distress. And even if they could fix it, he was still going to be a very old cat if and when he recovered and there’s no cure for old age.

During these visits the vet usually takes a blood sample in order to check glucose and fructosamine levels for diagnostic purposes. This time, however, she suggested that it was probably best to skip it. The business of drawing a vial of blood from a cat’s neck is unpleasant and extremely distressing for the animal. Given that his bodily signs were OK, there seemed little point in subjecting him to this. Instead she suggested we just maintain the current insulin level unless and until something appears to go wrong. I agreed.

Not doing the blood tests saved me a bit of money, but that’s not the point at all. I know the old boy is much nearer the end of his life than the beginning. I just want his last days to be as comfortable and happy as possible. I don’t see the point of making him uncomfortable to satisfy veterinary curiosity or to prolong his life by a few months. When the time comes, I’d rather he went peacefully.

The one thing I did agree on was to try some anti-inflammatory treatment for his arthritis, stuff you squirt on food. If that works it might make it easier for him to get around, and also groom himself. It does have a side-effect with some cats, making them nauseous, so I have to build it up slowly and keep an eye on him in case he gets sick.

Anyway, when it was time to go he climbed willingly into his box – the cat-box process is a very different business at the vet compared to what it’s like at home. When we got home he bundled out at high speed and headed straight for his food dish. He still has a healthy appetite, that’s for sure.

Here’s a quick picture for his fans, taken just before he went in his basket for a nap.