The Juggling Act: When Diseases Collide

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***Some parts of this post may be TMI.

I don’t know why the guy in the above picture is smiling. I really don’t.

RA is a very sociable disease. It likes to invite lots of friends along. As RA patients collect new diseases and complications throughout the years, it means new medications, new treatment plans, new diet or exercise changes, etc. etc. etc.

Fine – but what happens when the treatments are incompatible?

I’ve been having some issues with my heart for awhile. My blood pressure has always run on the low side, but I started getting episodes when it would be REALLY low – for example, 80/50. After one of my Remicade infusions, I tried to stand up and had a weird sensation of my heart going BUMP, followed by a feeling of intense dizziness that made me sit down. The doctor called it a vasovagal episode and recommended increasing my infusion time to three hours, which has helped a little. At another, more recent infusion, my blood pressure was so low when I first came in that the nurse insisted on pumping me full of saline before she would even start the medication. (It worked.) I also had a lot of episodes of standing up and blacking out, racing heartbeat keeping me awake at night, etc.

After two abnormal EKGs and one (thankfully) normal echocardiogram, a cardiologist diagnosed me with Postural Tachycardia Syndome, or POTS. This is actually very good news, since it means that nothing is wrong with my heart – just my stupid autonomic nervous system. Not shockingly, it is often associated with autoimmune diseases, including Sjögren’s Syndrome, another fun friend that my RA decided to invite along.

There are medications for POTS (beta blockers are popular), but most cases are manageable with lifestyle changes, and that’s the route I wanted to go. So I started implementing the changes my doctor suggested – increased salt and water, increased cardio, etc.

And that’s when the juggling got fun.

I started drinking two big bottles of SmartWater a day. SmartWater has electrolytes and was recommended by other people with POTS. I took the suggestion of one of these people and started chugging one bottle before I even got out of bed in the morning. It worked. I felt great.

Except…

The added minerals in the SmartWater drove my interstitial cystitis (IC) absolutely crazy. My bladder went berserk, and I could no longer sleep at night because of the urinary urgency and pain. Before this, my IC had been quiet for almost a year – I had actually started to think I didn’t have it anymore, because the treatments were working so well. I couldn’t stand it.

Out with the SmartWater.

So I concentrated on the exercise part, and started a pretty intense cardio regimen. My joints were behaving beautifully, I wasn’t injuring myself, and I felt better and more energetic than I had in years. It worked. I felt great.

Except…

The intense exercise regimen drove my pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) absolutely crazy. (Pelvic floor dysfunction is good buddies with interstitial cystitis – boy, these diseases do love their friends!) Again, up all night with pain, urinary urgency, etc. I saw the urologist who treats my IC and she confirmed that my bladder was fine – it was definitely the pelvic floor muscles, which were in major spasm. She didn’t have a great solution for the exercise problem, except to say that I should probably knock it off until the muscles relax. She prescribed a nightly low dose of Valium, which is apparently a common treatment for muscle issues like this. I wasn’t happy to add another drug. I also started spending a lot of quality time with my heating pad. (See what I mean about the TMI warning?)

Out with the intense cardio regimen.

That one really stung, because I was worried that the RA would be the obstacle, and instead my joints were perfectly happy. It was working. I felt great. I felt strong and powerful and able to do anything. I loved it, to my surprise. I really did.

Obviously I can still exercise, and will, but it has to be a lot more gentle, which probably won’t help the POTS nearly as much. I can still increase my salt and water, but the SmartWater was so easy, so convenient, and worked so quickly and well. It’s just frustrating.

I really, really, REALLY don’t want to take medication for the POTS. I was not at all happy to have medication added for the PFD. And my RA is actually in drug-induced remission. I want to enjoy this. It has made me so happy.

RA, I think it’s time for you to consider a more introverted lifestyle. These buddies of yours have got to go.

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