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Posts Tagged ‘Tocilizumab’

Just a quick post. I have posted a poll on the blog’s Facebook Page asking what current Biologic Treatment people with Stills are currently taking, so that I can try and see which drugs are the most widely used in the treatment of Still’s Disease.

The poll here is slightly different, in that you can vote for more than one option, to give you the opportunity to record each Biologic drug you have tried, since I figured this might give us a broader spectrum to base results on.

You can take part in both if you wish!

NB. Please only vote on the poll if you do have a diagnosis of Still’s Disease, Adult Onset Still’s Disease or Systemic Juvenile Arthritis, thanks.

L

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Just a quick note to say that I sent my Rheumatologist a weekly update on my condition, which isn’t getting any better. My current joint count includes: both hips, but especially my left being painful and unstable, both knees being very swollen, sore and restricted, left elbow swollen, painful and very restricted, both shoulders painful with fluctuating levels of restriction, neck stiff and sore, left wrist and fingers starting to feel puffy and stiff and developing pins and needles through to that hand, both ankles feeling tight and the left side of my jaw quite painful and tender to touch. So, you can probably understand that my hopes for Tocilizumab ever working are slowly dwindlng away…

I said as much in my email to my Rheumatologist and was relieved that he feels we have given the current treatment combination enough time now and that he is looking into other options to see what we should try next. I have been on Tocilizumab for 6 months now; 4 in combination with Methotrexate and 2 with Ciclosporin. Blood test results have show significant improvement but my joints have definitely not; in fact, I am much worse now than when I started.  In his reply he stated that the next step will probably be a stronger anti-tnf drug; Enbrel worked for a long time, but I eventually formed antibodies against it. I know there have been a lot of advances in anti-tnf since then and so I am happy with this option.

I’m due for my next infusion on Friday and will see my Rheumatologist to discuss things further then and hopefully come away with a plan of action. I’m guessing I’ll at least have this last dose of Tocilizumab and then maybe we will start the application to fund something new. I also hope that they will be able to take some of this fluid off my joints, particularly my knees, to give me a bit more movement. Not being able to bend my knees or weightbear on my hips properly is certainly proving to be a challenge!

Until then, I’ll be doing some research of my own into the anti-tnf options available,

L

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I thought that I’d concentrate on an realtime update, while backdating is taking so much longer than I expected. Things have reached a sort of equilibrium on a daily basis, between struggling with pain, mobility and capability in the mornings and managing things better in the afternoons. Someone from Social Services phoned on Friday to say that I was on top of the list for a home assessment that will decide whether I need a Care Package for a short time at home.  Personally, I feel that I only need some help in the mornings as I am too sore to do anything before my boyfriend leaves for work. We have our routine that works for a lot of things, but nothing in place to help me shower or dress. Dressing I can leave until the pain and stiffness eases enough to allow me to try, although this was late afternoon on some days last week.

Showering is probably the biggest problem. We have tried it once and am in no hurry to try again; there were too many problems and tears and it was simply not safe. As helpful as my boyfriend is, he isn’t trained to shower someone who can’t stand without support and such restriction raises more issues than you would imagine. Getting into the shower, over that little step, when you depend on a frame is hard enough itself; but, once you are in, there is nothing but wet walls for support and no way to move when you can’t bear you weight through something. I was terrified of slipping and falling. So, for now I am having thorough sponge washes twice a day and hope that someone will come to our aid with something to enable me to shower.

In the meantime, they did send me round a toilet frame that same afternoon, which has made ahugedifference to me. It was so difficult and taking such a long time to negotiate the toilet, that I was worried I might have an accident at some point. Worry no more! 🙂

On a more positive note, it was Valentine’s Day recently and we had booked a weekend hotel break as we do every year. We were actually going to cancel it, thinking I was just too poorly to manage, but because it was already paid for the hotel wouldn’t allow us and so we made the decision to give it a try. Fortunately, we had only booked somewhere very close by and purely for the hotel facilities rather than any plans to sightsee, so we figured that I may as well struggle there (in luxury) as at home. I think a few people close to me thought I was slightly mad and pushing myself too much too soon, but we all have to make our own decisions and live with them.

We got in touch with the hotel to explain the situation and they were very accommodating, upgrading us to a Disabled Access room that was on the ground floor and very close to the restaurant, bar and spa. I was able to use my zimmer in the bedroom and only had a short distance to manage on crutches, to get to meals. Once that initial morning struggle to get me dressed was out of the way, we would sit at breakfast for at least a couple of hours just taking things very slowly and waiting for my pain relief to kick in. Then eventually we would move across to the bar/lounge area and set up in a cosy corner there for the afternoon.  I was happy reading and making some notes for projects I have in mind, while my boyfriend made use of the free Wifi we had been offered to make our stay more enjoyable. Add to that being waited on with lovely food, cakes, tea and hot chocolate… you can probably see why I didn’t want to come home!

So, over all we had a wonderful weekend and I’m so glad that we took the chance, instead of playing it safe. Just to have a change of scenery, to have a reason to wear nice clothes and do my makeup, has given my spirits such a boost that I feel more able to deal with the issues that the Still’s Disease keeps throwing at me; and they do keep coming. Only yesterday, while away, I was presented with a new problem – both of my knees have swollen up, meaning it is now extremely difficult to stand from sitting as I can barely bend from my hips or my knees. My thoughts are that the Tocilizumab infusions aren’t working but we have to persevere a while longer as there are so few options left treatment-wise; we don’t want to write them off too soon.

Roll on March 2nd though.

L

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I can see my toes again!

{Backdated Post}

We made some progress today, in that I was able to sit up a bit more and eventually moved into a special reclining chair that one of the lovely male nurses managed to wrangle for me. This proved to be a fantastic help over my remaining days in hospital; it was remote controlled, raising and lowering as well as reclining, and so I was able to sit/stand without bearing too much weight through my hips. It was also a lot more comfortable than being stuck in the bed all day, with my legs stuck out in front of me; it’s surprising what relief a change in position can bring. Now that we knew there was no damage to my spine, I was able to switch between the two and make further steps towards getting myself more mobile – things were looking up.

And then came the ward rounds.

My Rheumatologist’s Registrar came to see me with a few other curious doctors. He told me that there was no infection present in the fluid they had taken from my hip on Friday and so it was looking like the Synovitis and Joint Effusion was down to an exacerbated Still’s flare.  He said he believed that the Still’s was getting worse because the Tocilizumab wasn’t working, despite the improvements to my bloodwork. He then went on to say that that the problem was, I had tried all the different mechanisms of drugs by this point: Enbrel, the anti-tnf, Anakinra the il-1 receptor antagonist, Abatacept the T-Cell inhibitor and Tocilizumab the il-6 receptor inhibitor.

As a result, he said I had run out of options and that my main hope was for them to look into future clinical trials that may include Still’s Disease patients. He mentioned the possibility of returning to anti-tnf therapy but felt that there was only a limited chance that I would respond after forming antibodies to Enbrel previously.  I was lost for words and he went away leaving me in a lot of doubt and feeling quite scared about the future. I have always known that my Still’s Disease was difficult to treat and did not follow the typical pattern; my Rheumatologist and I had often joked about how complicated I was, but we had always had a plan of action, another drug in the pipeline if the current one didn’t prove a success. I had always had faith that we would get on top of things eventually, even if it was a long, hard struggle to get there. Was I wrong to be so positive, naive even?

For the rest of the day I was out of sorts; I became tearful when I needed help from a nurse to go to the toilet, frustrated with my dependence and disability all of a sudden – was this going to become the norm for me? I spent a lot of time talking to my friends and family about it and they reassured me that I needed to see what my Rheumatologist said first; as I said before, he had always kept me optimistic about my future. He came to see me at about 6pm that day; I can’t remember the conversation now but nothing he said made me feel like a lost cause. Instead, he suggested that we persevere with the Cyclosporin a bit longer (with the Tocilizumab), since that had always brought some level of control in the past and I had only been on it for a few weeks at that point – some of which may not even have counted, since it is possible I may not have absorbed any medication while I had chronic Gastritis.

He admitted things were pretty dire and couldn’t offer me any guarentees, but he at least didn’t make me feel like I had completely run out of options.  I was able to relax a bit more and focus on the here and now again, taking small steps towards getting back on my feet and home – washing at the sink, using the toilet, getting between the bed and chair on my walker etc.

But I have to admit, the Registrar’s claims have been niggling away at me ever since.

L

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{Backdated Post}

This morning was an extremely difficult time, but I was closer to getting things more under control and was finally receiving the right care.

They woke me at 8.00am to take me down for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan of my hips and spine; unfortunately, the porter collected me before the pain medications were dispensed and by the time we got down to Radiography, I was distressed and shouting out with the excruciating pain once again, especially after being ‘patslided’ numerous times (this is undoubtedly a useful way of manouvering immobile patients, but does not protect you from the pain of such movement). They had to call up to the ward to bring some relief down, since I needed to be still for the 40 minute scan and at this point it wasn’t looking likely. Even the Morphine didn’t really settle things down; I was realising that by the time it got to such extremes, it took repeated doses to get back on top of it. They asked me if I wanted to postpone the scan but I felt that it was needed to get to the bottom of what was causing the pain. The sooner we found that out, the sooner we could treat it properly.

So I told them I wanted to go ahead, grit my teeth and attempted to take my mind elsewhere.

The MRI Scanner

I’ve had many MRI scans in the past and usually find them quite relaxing, despite the noise. They lie (sometimes strap) you on a stretcher that moves into a tunnel, where the scan takes place. In the above picture it looks like the patient has gone in headfirst, but in my experience my head has been at the entrance – much less claustrophobic. Usually, they give you headphones (often with music), both to protect your ears from the noise and to communicate with you from outside of the room; they also place a buzzer in your hand, which you can press at any time you feel distressed or want to stop. The scan is not painful. It basically consists of rotating magnetic signals being blasted at your body as you lie very still – you cannot feel these but they are expressed as noise patterns that change with different frequencies etc. So for five minutes it might sound like you’re surrounded by knocking, the next five by drilling, the next five by clicking, tapping, zapping and so on… A lady I met even described one of the noises as reminding her of frogs croaking first thing on a wet morning in Borneo!

I tend to just shut my eyes and relax, as if going to sleep; but this particular scan wasn’t that easy though. It was torture just making myself lie still, as my body kept trying to tense up to protect itself from the pain; I had to consciously relax every muscle and breathe. I think I cried through a good ten minutes or so of it but knew that wasn’t helping, despite it being an automatic response. The pain was still severe but eventually I managed to distance myself from it; I can’t exactly explain how – I’ve read a few books on meditative practices, so maybe they came in handy? I knew that each change in the sound pattern meant a certain amount of time passing and soon enough it went silent and a voice in my ear was telling me it was finished. To say I felt relieved would be an understatement!

Obviously, it takes time for someone to analyse the MRI scan pictures and give a full report, but sometimes things are apparent straight away. For me, they noticed that I had a lot of fluid surrounding my left femoral head (ie. Left Hip joint) and a smaller amount around the Right. I was taken straight to another part of the department to have this removed by aspiration and ultrasound. By that point, I was allowed further pain relief and this dose worked enough for me to feel a lot calmer. It’s embarrassing to look back on now, but I caused quite a scene that morning howling like a banshee and such. Thank goodness the worst was now over.

I was quite nervous about the hip aspiration. I’d had it done as a child but they put you under with gas at that age; this time it would be an injection of local anaesthetic. The team of people with me were lovely and great at making me feel at ease; the Radiographer in particular had a very calming effect and I felt in very safe hands.  He used the ultrasound scanner to examine my left hip first and to pinpoint just where the fluid had accumulated around it. This is similar to the scanners you see unborn babies with – a cold gel is placed on the surface of the skin and onto a ‘probe’, which the radiographer slides over the area in question, sending ultrasonic waves through the skin. These waves bounce off things inside at different levels (according to density I think), to create the pictures you see on the screen – the main thing I learnt is that fluid bounces back as black, so when he was looking for the fluid around my hip joint, it appeared as a large black shadow around/within the hip, which appears a greyish-white as that is denser.

Once he found the fluid, he needed to find a straight path to it from the skin surface without passing through any major blood vessels – there is actuallly a lot more time spent preparing the procedure than the procedure itself. Happy that he’d found a route, the radiographer then slowly began to administer the local anaesthetic by long needle; he did this in stages to ensure that I was as numb as possible, but as he came closer to the joint itself, he began to warn me that I’d feel quite a bit of pain but it would be shortlived. The pain didn’t come. He kept asking me “are you sure you can’t feel anything?”, while jabbing the needle further in, and I kept shaking my head. It was a bit like the movie ‘Death Becomes Her’ where the doctor can’t understand how her very broken wrist isn’t troubling her!

I asked him if this was something to worry about and he pulled that confused, thinking look that doctors do sometimes, as he explained that most patients find it at least uncomfortable to have a needle in the joint capsule. He said if I really wasn’t feeling anything, then he’d be concerned that I had some nerve damage to the hip itself and that this should be investigated too. For now though, we concentrated on the aspiration. With the needle in place, he was able to aspirate 5ml of fluid from the hip capsule; this didn’t look an awful lot to me – one small syringe, whereas my knees used to drain 2-3 much larger syringe-fulls as a child – but apparently it is a lot, as there is very little ‘spare room’ within hip joints. I was told that this explained the level of pain I was in and the lack of response to pain relief. He told me that they could have given me all the pain relief in the world, but as long as that fluid was stretching the joint out of place as it was, I’d have had excruciating pain. Hopefully, with it now gone, things would settle to a more bearable level.

I was confident that they would; in fact, I was pretty sure that I noticed an improvement as soon as the fluid was gone. I was by no means cured – the fluid needed to be sent for testing to rule out septic arthritis and we needed to find out if anything other than the Still’s Disease was causing the hip to produce so much fluid / get the full report on the MRI scan etc…  I have had very fluidy joints in the past, but I can’t remember where it fits in with things. Since this has become a major issue this past week, I will look into it myself at some point. After the hip aspiration, I was also given an abdominal ultrasound; something I was due to have that day anyway. It showed that my liver and spleen were enlarged, but since this is common with my flares, it didn’t cause him too much concern.

The rest of the day blurs in with the rest; I was to remain slightly propped up on my back in bed to take the pressure off my hips until the full MRI report was back, but with no turning timetable; instead I had to be checked for pressure sores and, when developing the starts of them on my heels, had to rest them on an inflatable. The auxillaries had to do everything for me – wash me, dress me, toilet me, help feed me… but when you feel so poorly those things don’t bother you, you’re grateful for the help and they were brilliant at providing it. I slept a lot but my Kindle came in handy as I managed to hold it above me to read for short periods but then my friend downloaded some audiobooks onto my blackberry, which was even more perfect! People were always popping into my room to see if I was okay and I had plenty of visitors, so strangely, I never felt bored!

It was decided that we would go ahead with my fifth Tocilizumab infusion that afternoon; the initial feeling on examining the fluid from my hip was that it was ‘viscous and stringy’, a good sign that there was no infection present. If it turned out there was, I’d be hooked up to IV antibiotics straight away anyway… it was one of those ‘risk-weighing’ decisions and I guess there was more risk in leaving the Still’s untreated by this point.  My infusion ward was only next door and my regular nurses took it in turns to pop round and check on the infusion and to see what ‘trouble’ I’d got myself into. They all have a way of making you feel that they care about you as an individual and they have a lot of patients going through their ward each week/month/year.  I guess this is an example of how good care can be in hospital too – from one extreme to the other.

My consultant visited that afternoon but I don’t remember much about the conversation now. All I know is that I was pleased he took the time to see me and it again reassured me that I was on the right track. One thing that we both agreed though, is that I’ve had some nasty flares and some severe joint involvement over the years; but this hip pain was totally out of proportion to anything I’d ever experienced and we needed to get to the bottom of it fast.

L

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So, December flew by and it was infusion time again. I woke up earlier than normal to get to the hospital on time and wasn’t feeling great at all. It took a lot of help and determination to get myself into the car as I was stiff, in pain and as weak as a kitten.

We arrived on the ward and the nurses noticed I was struggling straight away; I don’t even remember them fitting the cannula or taking my blood, but while taking my observations the Sister asked me how long I’d been feeling this way. I told her everything, she asked if I was feeling breathless and I explained that it wasn’t breathlessness exactly but a sense that I might forget to breathe if I didn’t make a conscious effort. I’m sure others have felt this too at times. She was obviously concerned and called my Rheumy straight away.

It wasn’t long after, that he came to see me; he asked if I felt awful in the usual way and I explained mainly as a Still’s flare but that I’d also experienced muscle weakness comparable to when my diagnosis was Dermatomysositis at 14. He examined my joints and said that he could feel the heat from them through my clothes, particularly my elbow and knee, which he injected with cortisone. Since there was no reason not to take Ciclosporin with the Tocilizumab and I’d responded well to it in the past, he decided to take me off Methotrexate and put me back on Ciclosporin at 300mg a day.

He also said he had spoken to a Paediatric Still’s specialist called Dr Helen Foster, who has lots of experience with Tocilizumab and had told him that it is not unusual for there to be an interval between test results and symptoms improving.  So I am still hopeful that this could be the winning combination and if I ever feel as good as my inflammation markers currently are (ESR of 8 and CRP less than 1 – both results the best we have ever seen for me) then I could end up feeling pretty fantastic in the near future. We just have to keep an eye on some of my other blood test results, as my WBC is low at 3.5 and neutrophils at 1.5. I don’t want a repeat of last year when Imuran caused Neutropenia and left me in an isolation room in hospital. Hopefully, this time round it has been the Methotrexate and not the Tocilizumab.

The last thing that we discussed was my recent neck pain and current hip trouble, which is agony. He had barely moved my right hip before I started yelping out in pain. It could be inflammation, or joint damage from the Still’s but he also mentioned something called Avascular Necrosis, which is when the bone tissue dies and can be caused by prolonged use of steroids. It has been fifteen years on Prednisolone without a break for me, plus the joint injections and occassional IV, so he sent me off for xrays of the hips and neck.

I was wheeled down to the xray department, where I struggled getting changed into a gown, getting up from lying on my back after the hip xrays and standing up for the neck ones. It made me realise just how much I have been relying on other people and on minimising what I do. Once we were back on the ward, I had a nap while we waited for the Tocilizumab. The infusion arrived just before 5.00pm and takes an hour to go through, it makes me feel warm but apart from that I have no reaction to the infusion itself. We left the hospital just after 6pm with my next appointment booked for the 2nd February, and knowing that my Rheumy would get in touch in between with my xray results.

So now I’m pooped and have that slightly overwhelmed feeling I get when having to take so much information in from hospital visits. I’ve probably said it before, but it makes things feel so much more real on days like today.

I’ll be good after a sleep,

L

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I can’t believe it’s already time for my fourth Tocilizumab infusion; December has just flown, but then I was asleep for most of it.  I’ve been trying to think of things I need to mention,questions to ask etc, wondering if the blood test results will be good again and if they are enough evidence that it is helping the Still’s when I’m still struggling physically. Chances are, I won’t get to see my rheumy but maybe the nurses on the ward are supposed to be monitoring my progress and I should be more open with them?  When they’ve asked ‘and how are you?’ in the past, I assumed they were just being polite, rather than prompting me to tell them how things really are. I didn’t want to bore them with the details if that wasn’t their intention, but I have to tell someone.

On showering this evening, I found three HS sinuses; they are tiny holes, like vampire bites but very deep and can easily get infected, causing swelling, abscess and further pain. No wonder I’ve been so uncomfortable.

I’m kinda freaked out that they keep appearing; I’d assumed it would be a one (or two) off and I’d be free but now it looks like something else I’m going to have to put up with. There is a theory that it is conneceted to having other autoimmune diseases. Lucky me.

Early morning tomorrow so early night for me too.

L

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