Nov 28, 2014

I Am Thankful for The Chronic Illness Community


Every year on Thanksgiving I take a minute to reflect upon what I am thankful for. I have found hope, solace and support among the chronic illness community of spoonies, zebras, potsies and zipperheads! I have met some of my best friends here and it's comforting to know that we can relate to one another's struggles on a personal level. It's also a major victory when one of my chronic illness friends has a good day or their health improves. We all know not to take those days for granted and what a major milestone health improvements can be. Even the smallest health victories are worth celebrating. It's amazing to have friends of all ages, from all different walks of life, from all over the country and all over the world sharing the same conditions. Although these cruel conditions are often what unites us initially, I have found that there is often so much more that we share. We are much, much more than just our illnesses and are certainly not defined by them. I often talk excessively about my condition to my chronic illness friends simply because they really get it, and they can relate. But I have found that the majority of us share many common interests and attitudes beyond our shared symptoms. If you are reading this, I am thankful for YOU!

The Sara Syndrome

This presentation by Dr. Rekate really resonated with me. It captures the typical experience of patients suffering from dysautonomia, joint hypermobility, chiari malformation and craniocervical instability and the associated sensitivities and autoimmune problems we struggle with.

Nov 15, 2014

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Chiari Malformation: What’s the Connection?


The most common form of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS type 3) occurs in an estimated 1 in 5,000 people, according to Medline Plus. It is a genetic disorder that affects connective tissues throughout the body. The pain of EDS varies from mild to extreme, but can become chronic over time and require lifelong physical therapy as well as surgical and pharmacological treatment. There are many types of EDS, which may have multiple comorbid conditions. For instance, some individuals with EDS type 3 also have a hindbrain herniation called Chiari malformation (CM). Some research suggests that having EDS may dispose people to developing an acquired form of Type I CM that can be difficult to manage appropriately even with advanced surgical intervention.

Genetics and Birth Defects
While EDS develops before birth, CM in EDS patients can be acquired later in life as a result of the unstable connective tissues throughout the neck and spine pulling the brain downward. Cranio-cervical Instability (CCI) and Tethered Cord Syndrome (TCS) are features found regularly in EDS patients that may contribute to the occurrence or severity of the CM. EDS is considered an inherited disorder because it is caused by genetic mutations that affect collagen. Collagen is a building block of proteins that gives connective tissues their strength. According to the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communication, the following gene mutations may lead to EDS:

· COL1A1 and COL1A2
· COL3A1
· COL5A1 and COL5A2
· ADAMTS2
· TNXB
· PLOD1

Although CM may indeed have a genetic component in the congenital form, the only genetic link in the acquired form is the presence of connective tissue disorders like EDS. While considered an uncommon disorder, CM typically appears during childhood or early adulthood, although symptoms can surface at anytime and may be triggered or exacerbated by accidents, falls or blows to the head. During this stage of development, CM can become apparent because the skull cannot adequately contain the cerebellum and this crowding at the base of the skull can disrupt the essential flow of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), as well as impinge important nerves and even disrupt blood flow. While CM is largely considered a congenital condition by most neurosurgeons, there is a growing body of evidence that it runs in families, just like EDS, and furthermore, that people with EDS may be predisposed to developing CM, although they were not necessarily born with the CM as a congenital abnormality.

Similarities and Differences in Pain
Perhaps the biggest similarity between EDS and CM is chronic pain. People with EDS are often misconceived as being clumsy or as having imaginary pain because of the fact that they may look completely healthy on the outside. The reality is that the range of pain spans from mild to severe, but can occur anywhere along the body where connective tissues are present. If you suffer from EDS, you may bruise easily and have unusual scars after a wound heals. Your skin may be unusually stretchy, and you might have prominent, visible blood vessels. EDS is also known for causing joint pain and frequent joint dislocations and subluxations throughout the body, which can necessitate the need for joint bracing and careful physical therapy to retain independence and mobility.

CM causes several different types of chronic pain, including a severe characteristic headache at the base of the skull, as well as pain throughout the neck, spine, and throat. It can also trigger severe nerve pain throughout the body. Individuals afflicted with CM may experience serious neurological deficits, trouble swallowing, tinnitus, vision disturbances and balance disruption that can lead to trouble walking and/or clumsiness.

Does EDS Cause CM?
Several studies suggest there is a complex connection between the two disorders that goes beyond the typical “cause and effect” association. According to the Hypermobility Syndromes Association, the causes of CM in a patient with EDS may be different than those in a patient without EDS. Furthermore, EDS patients seem to be more prone to Type 1 CM, which is the most common form of the disorder. The Association reports that a study of 2,813 Type 1 CM patients found that about 357 of them also had EDS symptoms.

More studies are needed to determine precisely how EDS causes CM. The only way to accurately determine the severity and cause of your condition/s is to seek appropriate testing and evaluation from a team of specialized medical professionals including neurologists, neurosurgeons and geneticists. EDS Type 3 can be diagnosed by a geneticist who administers a Beighton Scale Test while CM can be diagnosed by a neurologist or neurosurgeon through an MRI of the brain and cervical spine, preferably an upright MRI in those with suspected connective tissue disorders. Ideally, you should also seek out a doctor that specializes in chronic pain disorders to help manage the daily pain since medical testing isn’t the only assessment of pain disorders.

Kristeen Cherney is a freelance health and lifestyle writer who focuses on preventive measures for a better quality of life. Cherney holds a BA in Communication, and is currently finishing her MA in English.

Resources
· Chiari Malformation (2013, August 21). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chiari-malformation/basics/definition/con-20031115
· Chiari Malformation and EDS (2014, April 15). Retrieved from http://hypermobility.org/help-advice/chiari-malformation-eds/
· Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ehlersdanlossyndrome.html
· Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Myths and Facts (2009). Retrieved from http://www.ehlersdanlosnetwork.org/myths-facts.html
· What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome? (2006, May). Retrieved from http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/ehlers-danlos-syndrome
· Underlying Causes of Dysautonomia
http://www.dysautonomiainternational.org/page.php?ID=150

Nov 10, 2014

I Need This In My Life!

This just might be the greatest music video there ever was. Apparently CouchCar.com is a thing, a SoCal thing. Props to Taylor Locke Music for showing the world how to travel in comfort and convenience. I can't stop watching this!

One Lovely Blog Award


Thanks so much to Mary over at A Body of Hope for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award! Here are seven facts about me:

1) I have a growing nail polish collection and recently started dabbling (quite literally!) in nail art.

2) My favorite season is fall. I love all the warm hues, crisp cool air and pumpkin spice everything at Trader Joe's!

3) Earlier this year I was diagnosed with Chiari malformation and craniocervical instability secondary to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. A few more serious diagnoses to add to the list. I am trying my best to cope with these both physically and emotionally.

4) I am currently writing a book. So many readers have told me I should write a book since I started this blog years ago and I am finally taking their advice!

5) I have mild OCD tendencies, particularly when it comes to organization, cleanliness and germs. I have never been officially diagnosed but even as a small child cleaning my room put me at ease and everything had to be in its place. As a result, I had the neatest, prettiest pink room on the block!

6) Earlier this year I experienced a startling revelation that I am no longer as young and cool as I used to be...I am still listening to stuff I listened to as a kid in the 90's and 2000's, and I still think it's much better than this newfangled music kids these days listen to! ;)

7) I wear yoga pants just about everyday. Today marks the first time in two months I have put on a pair of jeans. Why? Because yoga pants are much more comfortable, and the type I wear provide subtle compression which helps with hypermobility!

I will be contacting my nominees via Facebook shortly! I look forward to reading your posts.

Kristina

Oct 18, 2014

I love to hear from you!

A BIG thank you to Mary over at A Body of Hope for making this for me! I love to hear from my readers and read your blogs! If you have a blog of you're own please share it with me! It is always great to hear from you guys and see what you're working on. There are so many talented people out there! Thanks again, Mary!

So True!

A friend and fellow dysautonomia warrior posted this on her Facebook this morning and it really resonated with me! People in the chronic illness community are among the strongest, bravest on earth.


October is Dysautonomia Awareness Month! What are you doing to raise awareness?

This October marks another great annual Dysautonomia Awareness Month. It is always so awesome to see the patient community rally together and do amazing things to help raise funds to support research and help raise awareness in their communities. It's inspiring to see young kids participating alongside their parents, making noise for turquoise! Thankfully, turquoise is one of my favorite colors! I love to wear it and also have plenty of bright turquoise throughout my house. I even painted a turquoise pumpkin for Halloween this year. If you can, get out there and raise some awareness in your community. Tell someone about dysautonomia. Help educate a new medical practitioner who may not know what it is. Find a fundraising idea and donate the funds to research. Or purchase something on Amazon.com through this page and part of every sale automatically gets donated back to dysautonomia research (it doesn't cost you a penny extra, amazon donates their share of the sale!)

There is lots happening online as well. Check out Facebook.com/DysautonomiaInternational for a daily dysautonomia factoid. I have learned SO many things I didn't know. There's also a live Tweet-A-Thon happening on October 23rd.


Oct 2, 2014

2014 In A Nutshell


On the eve of a very important appointment with a very important neurosurgeon, I find myself brimming with anxiety over the occasion. You'd think after seven years of health drama doctor's appointments wouldn't even phase me anymore, but the reality is, sometimes they still do. Especially the important ones. So I figured what better way to spend my evening than to engage in a little blogtherapy and update you all what's been happening in my life so far this year and also explain why I haven't updated this blog in ten months!

Let's start off with some happy news! In February I got engaged! The proposal was magical and perhaps I should save that story for a separate post! We were both so thrilled that we started wedding planning almost immediately but then we both took a step back and realized that planning a huge wedding was starting to get really overwhelming (and really expensive!) really quickly. The more I thought about it the more I realized that a wedding is merely one day and that the marriage itself is what really matters. So we went from wanting a huge outdoor wedding and reception to now wanting a very small, private, low-stress ceremony and will probably skip having a formal reception altogether. It just doesn't make sense to exhaust all of our physical and financial resources on one single day when the time, money and energy expended could be better invested in creating our home together. I've basically stopped wedding planning for now and I'm so much more at ease. We've agreed upon the perfect small venue and I am going to wear a gorgeous gown. I also want a cool, Cake-Boss style cake. But other than that our wedding will be no-frills, no fuss.

In April we started fixing up my fiance's house to put on the market. Boy was that a job! It really tested our patience as things just kept going wrong and the house proved to be a lot more work than any of us expected! Several weekend work parties, one dead cat (long story!) and countless manpower hours later, the house is finally listed on the real estate market and being shown! Cross your fingers for us that it sells soon so we can move forward with the next chapter of our lives.

In June I finally had an upright MRI of my brain and cervical spine as ordered by my primary care doctor for the wonky discs in my neck that kept going out. The MRI results confirmed my biggest fears: that I do indeed have a Type 1 Chiari malformation as well as cervical instability secondary to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I always knew Chiari was a distinct possibility because of my EDS, but I figured since my POTS has gotten so much better over time that I surely I didn't have any more comorbid conditions to worry about. Well, I was wrong. My Chiari measures a mere 5mm but I am symptomatic with headaches, balance issues and tingling extremities and have been for over a year now. So far I have seen a local neurosurgeon, had a Skype consult with Dr. Rekate of The Chiari Institute (who was wonderful and a wealth of information!) and have one more consult with the head of neurosurgery at the local University tomorrow. Dr. Rekate told me he trusts this surgeon's skill so I feel a bit better in knowing that he's highly regarded by his peers. However my cervical instability is perhaps more of an issue than the Chiari itself so I need to make sure my local doctors take it seriously and address it accordingly.

In July and August, I ended up getting sent for several additional tests: an MRI of my thoracic spine, an MRI of my lumbar spine, cervical x-rays in flexion and extension, a 3D CT scan of my cervical spine, and a cine MRI of my brain/c-spine. Am I ever sick and tired of MRI's! The good news is that my MRI's showed NO evidence of a syrinx or a tethered cord. Tomorrow I will receive the results of the cine MRI from the neurosurgeon and boy am I nervous. The cine MRI is a specialized MRI that assesses the cerebral spinal fluid flow or extent of the obstruction from the Chiari. I am hoping he tells me I don't need surgery, or at least not urgently. The prospect of brain/spine surgery scares the bejeezus out of me. And I would really like to focus on things like getting married and finding our new home. A surgery would certainly disrupt my plans. But will have to see what he says tomorrow and take everything one step at a time.

Can't believe it's already October which also happens to be dysautonomia awareness month! This month I look forward to getting 3 teeth crowned (ugh!) and watching copious amounts of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. It's also my mom's 60th birthday which is kind of a big deal. Not quite sure how to commemorate the occasion but she has been a huge support to me my whole life and especially these past few months as I have suffered some pretty rough days health-wise and dealt with yet another life-altering diagnosis. Wish I could buy her a really cool, expensive gift! Or send her on a vacation somewhere tropical and relaxing!

As for November and December, we are hoping my fiance's house will finally sell so we won't have to maintain it over the winter and I am really really hoping to avoid neurosurgery. I should know more about that tomorrow. Until then, thanks for reading! I have really missed blogging and missed hearing from my lovely readers as well! Hope you are all doing well and enjoying improved health and wellness!

Dec 11, 2013

2013 Year In Review


This year brought a lot of major life changes and new beginnings for me. Mostly positive ones. I moved to a new home in a different location and am now (finally!) comfortably settled in here. I am living within walking distance to a major doctor's office, lab and my physical therapy clinic. I'm also extremely close to groceries, gas and restaurants. The convenience of not having to drive everywhere has simplified my life a great deal. The appointment running has calmed down a bit too with the exception of physical therapy and dentistry that is. The dental work I've had done and am still having done has tried ever fiber of my being this past year. I only have seven more fillings and five more crowns to go before I am completely cavity-free. I have had a grand total of three root canals, one crown and three fillings done this year. The physical, emotional and financial stress of dental work is enough to drive anyone clinically insane. I realize I have to keep plugging away at fixing my teeth to avoid future root canals and extractions, as those are not an option for me.

My physical therapy appointments though tough, are also rewarding. I don't look at physical therapy as just another appointment, I view it as an integral part of my weekly routine. I am already seeing results in the strength department. Luckily I build muscle pretty quickly which is helping to stabilize my ankle along with the rest of my wobbly body. I am lucky to live right next door to such a great physical therapy clinic with a therapist who also happens to suffer from hypermobility and TMJD herself. Doing physical therapy as a teen saved her from having TMJ surgery and that experience was what led her to the field. I feel optimistic about the progress that I am making and feel myself getting a lot stronger each and everyday. I only go twice a week but have an intense home exercise program that I do daily, sometimes in my living room and sometimes at my apartment complex's on-site gym, which is another nice feature of the new place.

The first month after I moved was fraught with major challenges concerning air quality. I had selected and moved into a ground floor unit, but unfortunately the complex was built on a wetland and as soon as the rains started in my apartment reeked of a strong, sickening mold smell. So much for life in a "luxury" apartment. A home humidity monitor I purchased revealed that the internal humidity reached 75% everyday. A normal internal humidity level is between 30-50%. Anything above 60% provides ideal conditions for mold growth. I fought with the complex to let me move to another unit. An option which was totally feasible considering it was brand new construction and only a quarter of the units were occupied. Their corporate management initially denied my request calling the mold smell a "subjective" complaint since they couldn't pinpoint the exact source of the mold. Upon conducting a bit of careful research and calling the city building inspector it turns out that the problem was much larger than bleach or exhaust fans could have ever fixed. In order to remedy the problem, the building would have had to have been torn down completely. Because apartments are technically classified as commercial space (even though residents inhabit them as their homes,) the city allows them to build on concrete slabs without crawl spaces. They didn't allow the concrete slab to cure long enough in the construction process which resulted in a subsequent sponge-like effect on the foundation every time it rained. Every time it rained that damp moldy smell crept up into my home from the concrete floor, through my carpet and into the living space.

I finally moved into a new apartment in the same complex at the beginning of October after enduring a month of hell in a moldy apartment. I am now living on the second floor of an apartment that doesn't smell of anything other than whatever I have been cooking in the kitchen. My sinuses are much better now and I can actually breathe out of my nose in the mornings again. Something I had wondered if I would ever be able to do again. Although sinus surgery may become an inevitability down the road due to a deviated septum and bone spurring, for now I have dodged a major bullet by avoiding surgery. And I am happy to put it off for as long as possible unless it becomes a necessity. My new apartment feels much healthier and I can breathe easy here which is a huge relief.

I am doing decent in the health department at the moment (aside from a nagging, two-week old mystery upper right quadrant and back pain that landed me in the ER for bloodwork, an abdominal ultrasound and a HIDA scan to no avail and is currently being investigated by my primary care doc). My health is something I do not take for granted at all. For the most part my POTS is controlled and doing much better now that I've removed myself from the moldy environment of the other apartment. Earlier this year I had a scary bout with benign positional vertigo that finally subsided after taking a month round of Augmentin antibiotics for my sinuses. It was a scary time for me. Every time I layed on my right side or flat on my back I would get the spins. This continued for a few months with my doctor telling me it was "just some inner ear virus," and an ENT insisting it was benign positional vertigo spurred by spending too much time in a dental chair as I had a scary incident where some heavy duty dental drilling back in the chair spurred a major attack. Whatever it was, it is no longer happening to me now and I am so thankful. I had a follow-up with a new ENT the other day and luckily they were not able to trigger the vertigo in his office. Because of my history with rotational vertigo during dental work though, he wants me to undergo a more sophisticated test called a VNG early next year to measure eye movements during different positions and then conduct a repositioning procedure in the office to resposition any inner ear crystals that may have become dislodged.

In 2014, I still have plenty of work to do. I would like to make more strides in the health and fitness department with an emphasis on healthier eating. I definitely have some work to do in that department. I am fortunate to have a wonderful boyfriend who enjoys cooking for me, the problem is he enjoys cooking tasty comfort foods without worrying about things like nutrition content or calories. Oh well, I can't complain too much. I know how lucky I am to have someone who cares about me and takes good care of me. I am finally in a healthy relationship, one that I don't have to change myself for. Compared to my verbally abusive ex, this experience has been night and day and I am so thankful.

So to sum it all up, this year has brought some health ups and downs, but overall I'm in a good place health wise. I'm in a good place location wise after finally moving into a healthy apartment. And I'm in a great place relationship wise with someone who loves and respects me. Next year I intend to get my body in peak physical condition and hopefully start to renew old hobbies one by one without destroying my body in the process. For now I will have to say no to ballet but may take up pilates and yoga again in the new year.