Category Archives: crohn’s diagnosis

The Difficult Patient

I like to think that I’m a good patient. I very rarely forget to take my medication; I always turn up for appointments; I try to enter the consulting room with a positive attitude and clutching a list of questions.

…but I’m also a difficult patient. I think it’s true of any IBD patient that we are “difficult” because it is likely that on first presentation to our GP our symptoms could have a number of possible explanations. At least more doctors are becoming aware of IBD as an avenue for investigation. It took 8 months for my positive diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, via “nerves” and “spastic colon” along the way.

The difficulty continued. My platelet count dropped dramatically (thrombocytopenia). The most likely explanation? “It was the azathioprine.” So I stopped the azathioprine, my platelets showed no improvement and I ended up having surgery to remove a stricture.

Azathioprine is known to potentially affect the blood which is why we should have regular blood tests when taking it. Although my platelet count was around the 70 mark (usual range 150 – 400), I was asymptomatic. If I cut myself I didn’t bleed any more than usual and after several visits to see the haematologist it was decided to park the issue as it wasn’t affecting any other treatment. I had been in remission and Crohn’s drug free since surgery.

But what if the Crohn’s started to flare again and my gastro consultant decided the best treatment would be to restart the Aza? I put this to him and he agreed that we should un-park the question and try to find out whether the drug was to blame.

Off to see the haematologist again and two bone marrow biopsies later it was decided that Aza was the probably the guilty party, had attacked my bone marrow which in turn suppressed platelet production. (…..not everyone agrees)

The second “difficulty” was when I started vomiting blood, an incident that I have mentioned many times before. Into our local A&E and then admitted as an in-patient. The consultants there were expecting to find an ulcer. To confirm their suspicions they shoved a camera down my throat and were surprised to find esophageal varices. A simple-to-treat ulcer was actually something a lot more sinister.

One ultrasound scan later and it was identified as portal vein thrombosis. Time to pass me back into the care of my usual hospital. Treatment would involve both a hepatologist and haematologist. At my first meeting with the hepatologist I asked what could have caused the blood clot in my portal vein. He said that the most likely explanation was that it resulted from peritonitis brought on by a perforated bowel over 30 years previously. I have to admit I still struggle with this explanation. Why did it take 30 years to come to a head? Result – beta blockers and proton pump inhibitors.

The haematologist suggested that I started taking blood thinners to combat the threat of further blood clots. I really didn’t want to take any more medication than strictly necessary so we did a risk analysis and concluded that it was 50/50 for and against. Result – no warfarin. Another issue successfully parked.

Then came the jaundice as a result of gallstones. I met with upper GI surgeons at both my local and Kings College hospitals. The usual treatment would be to whip out my gallbladder using keyhole surgery but, of course, my case is not so simple. Previous laparotomies have left scar tissue and adhesions that would preclude a keyhole operation. Then an MRCP scan showed that the varices, that had grown down my throat, had also grown around my gallbladder.  Aaah!

What have we concluded? The choices are to operate now to prevent a problem in the future “that might never happen” or to postpone the decision and review again in 6 months time. He was minded to go with this second option. I wholeheartedly agreed with him.

…and finally there’s the little matter of conflicting test results. As it was the subject of my last post I don’t intend to repeat it here but it leaves me with questions. Is the “wait and watch, let’s park that issue” a valid strategy or best option in this instance. If I asked for further investigations to be done would I simply be using up valuable NHS resources carrying out tests that might make no difference to, or even worsen, my QOL? Would it even be clear which further tests could be carried out? As I said in that previous post, curiosity is getting the better of me but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. That’s one of the advantages of writing a blog. You can get all your thoughts down in one place and then, you guessed it, park them.

Maybe there are no clear cut answers but I’m starting to feel that my “difficult patient” status can only get worse as the ageing process kicks in. Oh for a simple life.

From Diagnosis to Surgery

In the dim and distant past I was becoming unwell, the sort of unwell that ended up in dashes to the bathroom. My GP quickly announced his verdict – I was suffering from “nerves”. He gave me a course of Nacton because, as we all know, the way to treat “nerves” is with a medication for peptic ulcers. Thank heavens for locums….

Within 18 months I was “enjoying” my first trip in an ambulance, compete with blue lights flashing and sirens wailing. Was I on my way to die? (Clearly not or you wouldn’t be reading this)

To fill in some of the details I’ll point you at the fuller version of the story. Clicking on the image below will open up a pdf file of my book/journal’s draft first chapter, and some early, rather pathetic, selfies…….

It’s World IBD Day, again

It doesn’t seem a year ago when we were all wishing each other “Happy World IBD Day” (however inappropriate that may sound to non-IBDers).

To mark the day I’ve been inspired by last night’s (18th May) excellent #IBDHour chat very ably hosted by Richard Harris (@doobarz) and Shell Lawes (@shelllawes). The topic was the medications that we take or are offered for treating IBD. I’ve really taken to the format of TweetChats, the only downside being the constraint of trying to do justice to complex issues in just 140 characters. (That’s also an upside because you have to think more carefully about what you are typing)

One thing that was clear from last night is how differently we all react to the “common” drugs – salazopyrin, prednisolone, azathioprine, Remicade etc. There was some shock that I had prescribed steroids for twenty years but that wasn’t the whole story. The very first drug I was given was “Nacton”.  “Nacton?” Yes, a drug for peptic ulcers. Things could only get better…

I thought I might tell the story of my diagnosis and first surgery without the 140 character constraint. If you click on the image below it will open the first chapter from my book  – “Crohn’s Disease – Wrestling the Octopus”, as a pdf, in a new window. (It is still draft at this stage and the eagle eyed will notice some punctuation that needs changing)

 

If Facebook was older

“Thank you for letting me join the group. I’m a 22 year old male and have not been feeling well over the last year or so. I make frequent visits to the bathroom and my weight is dropping off. I’m currently 54kg which is not great when you are six foot tall. I went and saw my GP. He initially told me it was “nerves” and later changed that to “spastic colon” but having recently spent 10 days in Croydon’s Mayday Hospital, undergoing tests, the diagnosis is now Crohn’s disease. I’ve been prescribed steroids for the inflammation and codeine phosphate to slow my system down. I know that the disease has no cure and that if I’m unlucky I could end up having surgery. That’s the bit that really scares me because the thought of going into hospital fills me with absolute dread. Just going there for a barium enema was bad enough….”

If Facebook was older, and had been around in 1978, I may well have posted the above. Nowadays I read similar stories from young adults, many also in their early twenties, explaining that they have been recently diagnosed and the impact that diagnosis has had upon them both physically and mentally. Some are truly heart rending. I tend to forget I was in a similar place all those years ago.

A few decades on and I am currently in clinical remission but not without a few related health issues arising along the way. I would like to hope that others, who have just started out along their Crohn’s path, can achieve a similar sort of equilibrium sooner rather than later. I’m not naive enough to think I have achieved full closure as we all know that Crohn’s can return when we least expect it.

I was determined to at least attempt a partial closure and to this end set out to write a book based on the story so far. With a “big” birthday nearly upon me it is 99% complete. A few finishing touches and that will be it. The next part of the challenge will be to publish it, another new skillset to learn. Watch this space.

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Labour of Love

The biggest difference between the year of my diagnosis and the present day is the availability of IBD information. When I was told “you have Crohn’s” it was just something I would have to live with, take drugs for and, if I was unlucky, might end up needing surgery for. That was pretty much it. Nowadays, if you search the web for “Crohn’s Disease” there are over 8,000,000 entries ranging from excellent, well written information sites at the top end of the scale down to the downright dubious ones which are only there to try and sell some miracle cure or diet to desperate sufferers. Then there are all the forums, FB pages and blogs (like this one) where anyone can air their opinions.

I was discussing this subject with my sister-in-law. She asked if I thought I was better off having spent many years in blissful ignorance rather than in information overload. She remarked that I had maintained a positive attitude throughout and thought that it must have helped coping with the disease. My immediate response was “I don’t know”. I can see the arguments from both sides but having given it further thought, on balance, blissful ignorance was probably best for me. Fortunately/unfortunately this is no longer an option.

As ever one train of thought leads to another. For instance, what should the patient expect from their consultant? At initial diagnosis should they be told the worst possible outcome or should all the tests results and procedures to be completed before going that far. I had reason to question this at the end of May 2012 when it was possible that I was (and still may be) suffering from PSC (Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis). To confirm the diagnosis needed a number of scans and biopsies to be carried out but before any of these happened the consultant was talking about needing a liver transplant. You can imagine how I felt, sitting on the edge of my hospital bed, to be confronted with those words. It takes a lot to faze me but even I didn’t knw how to react. Having now had the tests it is possible that I have the beginnings of PSC but nothing definitive. Did I really need to have the threat of a transplant dangled before me? Was it all down to a lack of bedside manner? Can bedside manner be learned? (That would make a good subject for, maybe, a survey).

..and my other question – how should we respond to the newly diagnosed, or waiting to be diagnosed, IBD sufferers on SoMe? Personally I work on the basis of trying to be positive, as I have plenty of positives along with the not so good times. I have seen other respondees jump straight in with tales of multiple operations, months in hospital and relationship break-ups. The FB entry that prompted me to write this piece was from a new sufferer, along the lines – “I’ve got Crohn’s; it will mean having an operation and ending up with a bag; my life is over.” After many supportive comments one person responded with “if it’s a choice between dying or having a bag then I know what I would choose.” To me it seemed so insensitive.

I’m not denying that all these things can happen but should we really burden someone who is just coming to terms that they have the disease with all the potential “baggage” that may, or may not, come with it? After all, we all suffer in different ways; we all cope in different ways; we all survive in different ways.

I would like to know if you think I’ve got this all completely wrong or if you agree. Answers on a tweet to @crohnoid.