August is Digestive Tract Paralysis (DTP) Awareness Month

Digestive Tract Paralysis (DTP) refers to a group of conditions that affect the motility, or speed in which your body digests food and liquids, such as gastroparesis (GP), chronic intestinal pseudo obstruction (CIPO), and colonic inertia (CI). I have been diagnosed with esophageal dysmotility, gastroparesis, and colonic inertia and all have greatly effected my health and lifestyle.

Gastroparesis, or paralyzed stomach, is a condition where your stomach takes too long to digest and empty your stomach. GP can be primary, secondary, or idiopathic and can range from mild to severe (little to no motility). Common forms of secondary GP are diabetic GP, Post-abdominal surgery GP, post-viral GP, and GP from eating disorders. Some symptoms of GP according to GPACT are:

Early Satiety after a few bites of food

Nausea (especially after eating)

Vomiting (often undigested food from hours or even days before)

Abdominal Pain

Hiccupping

Excessive Belching

Bloating

Weight Gain

Weight Loss

Loss of Appetite

Malnutrition

Dehydration

Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux which is not controlled by acid suppressants

Erratic blood glucose levels

Comic of stomach and intestine by the awkward yeti

 

For me, dysmotility has hijacked my love of food and made me realize how much our culture revolves around food. Out to dinner, snacks at the movies, family meals, holidays, snacking, period chocolate eating, late night iHOP runs, and lunch breaks at work. When you can’t eat or can only eat a few types of food in small amounts, you miss out on a lot. Not to mention if certain food smells make you nauseous- my DTP friends can probably relate to being nauseous and starving at the same time. Food is everywhere. DTP is part of the reason I have a feeding tube which givesme freedom but is also a pain. in. the. ass. I have to be fed into my intestine to bypass my damaged stomach (intestines are more functioning though also damaged). This requires being attached to a tube and pump anywhere from 12 to 24 hours a day.

But DTP doesn’t just effect eating, it effects medication absorption, acidity levels, bowel control, hydration, energy levels, weight, and definitely clothing sizes (bloating is no joke). We need a cure, we are starving for a cure. While there are some treatments available they often come with difficult side effects or are invasive. More research needs to be done for a cure to be found! To donate or find out more please visit the Gastroparesis Patient Association for Cures and Treatments (G-PACT)!

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International Day of Acceptance

Happy International Day of Acceptance!

Today, and every day, I challenge you all to inclusion, acceptance, and understanding. I challenge you to make a new friend, communicate in a new way, expand your knowledge and experience and above all, be kind. Ask questions, do research, and do not ignore differences. Lets start 2018 with more open dialogue because everyone deserves to feel loved and accepted.

Here’s what some other people say about inclusion and acceptance:

“Coming together is a beginning: keeping together is progress; working together is success.” -Henry Ford

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” -Mr. Rogers

“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” -Brene Brown

“The world is no real home without all of us here.” -Brian Andreas

international-day-of-acceptance.jpg

 

Me vs Gravity: Life with Dysautonomia

         October is also Dysautonomia Awareness Month! Wahoo! Dysautonomia is an umbrella term for several conditions that result from a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Many people know of the ANS from health class as being the system that is in charge of the “fight or flight” response, and you’d be mostly right. Yes, the ANS is in charge of “fight or flight” but more broadly, it is essentially in charge of regulating the automatic functions of your body. There are nine different types of dysautonomia: POTS, OI, AAG, Pandys, NMH, NCS, PAF, FD, and MSA. Learn more about them here. For this post I will only be talking about POTS and my experiences with POTS. I have secondary hyperadenergic POTS (hPOTS).

What is POTS?

As stated above, POTS is a neurological condition in which the ANS does not send the proper signals to the body to regulate blood pressure and heart rate (primarily, POTS affects the whole body).  Normally, when a person stands, gravity pulls blood to the lower extremities. The nervous system senses this and sends a message to the blood vessels to constrict, sending more blood back to the heart and head. With POTS, this message to constrict does not get sent. Therefore, instead of the heart rate increasing by a normal 10 to 15 bpm upon standing, it can increase by more than 30 and can even double (when first diagnosed mine went from 68 bpm lying down to 189 bpm and remained that way for 10+ minutes). By affecting circulation, it also affects cerebral blood flow. Symptoms include orthostatic intolerance (dizziness), chest pain, headaches, GI cramps and dysmotility, inability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time, inability to read due to blurred vision, difficulty with recall, blood pooling, extreme fatigue, nausea, tremulousness, insomnia, loss of consciousness. 

What causes POTS?

While there is some knowledge about comorbid conditions that are commonly seen with POTS and certain types of POTS have associated causes with the start of symptoms, it is unknown what is the true cause. For example, one type of POTS can occur post-concussion and we know that but not everyone who gets a concussion gets POTS. There is currently no cure and treatment is based on symptom management. 

Common Misconceptions

  • POTS is caused by anxiety. POTS symptoms can mimic anxiety/panic disorders patients are often misdiagnosed or POTS is missed entirely because symptoms are deemed to be caused by anxiety. See research here
  • POTS is caused by deconditioning. See research here. Exercise (for those allowed by their doctors) can be a crucial part of a POTS patient’s treatment plan but is not caused by deconditioning and cannot be cured by exercise alone
  • POTS is just getting dizzy sometimes. POTS is a complex neurological condition that effects every patient different though almost all, if not all, have multiple organ systems effected. 

Lingo

  • brain fog: cloudy feeling that hangs around and causes you to do stupid shit like flush the toilet three times, forget if you took your meds or just thought about taking your meds, and being unable to form a coherent sentence

What my POTS is like

***Disclaimer: This will by no means be an extensive list of symptoms or experiences and this is just how POTS effects me. There will also be crossover between EDS, GP, MCAD and possibly LQTS.***

       I was formally diagnosed with POTS in 2015 though I had symptoms beginning in early middle school years. To save my fingers I am just going to talk about my current life with POTS and will probably do a more extensive post later, I just tired and lazy.
       Remember the last time you had the flu and ached everywhere, slept all day and don’t remember half of what happened? Now imagine waking up feeling like that every day (and more! yaaay), this is one of my main struggles with POTS. Several factors contribute the fatigue including medication and adrenaline surges/crashes but on any given day my energy level is equal to or less than a sloth on Ambien. I take naps nearly daily, sometimes multiple times a day just to keep up with my peers. I have trouble filtering out stimuli, recalling things, producing speech, following multistep directions, and reading for comprehension.
        Another big problem I have is blood pooling. POTS alone can cause bad pooling but with the stretchiness of my veins from EDS, it is much worse. I also have Raynaud’s syndrome so my hands and feet are always cold! The picture to the left is an example of blood pooling in my hands (on medication). This is what happens if I stand with one hand raised and one arm relaxed for two minutes. The white hand was raised and therefore has less pooling (gravity does all the work). After about a minute of sitting my legs look like my left hand. Now imagine a 11 hour car ride or a 3 hour lecture. This is why many POTSies wear compression stockings and socks to help our bodies circulate blood or why lying down with our legs up helps. 


       While POTS impacts many things in my life it does not mean I can’t do fun stuff, learn, and enjoy life I just need everything to slow down and take breaks. I have very limited energy and most is spent on school, existing, medical appointments, personal hygiene (showers are EXHAUSTING), and keeping myself alive. I have to worry about getting places without steps, lying down in the middle of the mall to keep myself from passing out, obsessing over hydration and medication schedules to maintain baseline and prevent things from spiraling out of control, and pretend to be a functioning adult.

Thanks for reading and make noise for turquoise (dysautonomia awareness color)! 

Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say! AAC Awareness Month

     Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is any form of communication that supplements or replaces speech. AAC can take many forms, from sign language to facial expressions, to printed communication books to high tech speech generating devices (SGDs AKA “talkers”). Basically, if it isn’t speech it is AAC! High tech does not always mean better and just like study habits and treatment plans, what works for one person might not work well for another, even with the same diagnosis. AAC users are of all ages, genders, races, disabilities, and literacy levels but they all have either no speech, speech that is difficult to understand, or have trouble forming fluent speech.

Remember that last time you lost your voice? I can almost guarantee you that you became frustrated at least once during that time period. Now imagine that you have an itch on the center of your back and you cannot speak. You’re only given this sheet of laminate paper.

You can’t sign, speak, or write. How do you tell me your back itches? Maybe … “I/me/me — help — turn…” then directional words until your communication partner happens upon the place your back itches??

Sounds “no want”? What? Not the word you were thinking of? Oh well… good enough. NO NO NO!

     Everybody should be given access to words (and symbols). Words are powerful and they make us who we are and allow us to connect with others. They surround us from the moment we are born to our very last breaths. Words are more than just basic needs and wants. Words are social, personal, creative and powerful. Nobody should have that kept from them.

Tips for Communicating with a person who uses AAC:

  • Be patient! One of the most frustrating things for me if being asked a question and halfway through your response they say something like, “oh, nevermind” or “don’t worry about it”. Similarly, group conversations can be VERY difficult when it takes you longer to respond. I often form my answer and by time I have finished my response is irrelevant. Don’t be offended if I tend to be quieter in groups, I am listening! I know it is hard to take the time to slow it down but I guaranteed you the AAC user will be very grateful!
  • Don’t limit to yes and no questions. It gets boring really quick. That being said, if an answer is needed quickly, it might be helpful to ask yes or no questions or give a few options to chose from. Ex. “Julie, the house is burning and I need to know, should we use: unicorn power, ninjas or rocks to stop the fire. Unicorn power? (yes/no) Ninjas? (yes/no) Rocks? (yes/no) Something else? (wait for response using AAC).
  • Presume competence. Talk to us at an age appropriate level and normal volume and rate (unless known to have hearing or processing issues). POP QUIZ! (all based on actual experiences)
    •  Billy is 40 years old Giants fan and uses a speech generating device. When talking to Billy you should:
      1. HELLO BILLY BOY! HOW————ARE———YOU?!
      2. Hi Billy, how are you? I saw the Giants won last night!
      3. *turns to Billy’s wife* Hi Betty! How are you? How is Billy doing?
      4. HI. My——-name——–is———S-U-S-A-N. NIIIIIICCEEEE TO MEEET YOU! YOUR CHAIR IS SOOOOOO CUTE!
    • If you answered #2, wahoo! You get it.
  • Advocate with us and for us!

 

Cool AAC Related Stuff:

Above: Video compilation project showing AAC users doing various activities and living their lives!

Above: An example of a SGD and computer controlled with the users eyes. For more information click here.

For a great website for AAC resources (use, teaching, awareness) click here (PrAACtical AAC)!

Examples of popular low and high tech systems:

 

 

Getting Hip with the Lingo

  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): includes all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. We all use AAC when we make facial expressions or gestures, use symbols or pictures, or write (Source: ASHA)
  • Speech-Generating Device: Any piece of technology that turns user inputted text or symbols and turns it into spoken computer generated or synthesized voice. AKA a machine that talks for you.
  • Switch Access: using a switch to control your AAC device (like an automatic door switch). Switches can be activated using touch, light, sound, breath, or even tongue movements!

It’s that time again! (EDS Awareness Month)

Hello lovelies, in case you didn’t know because you live under a rock and you like it down there, May is Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes (EDS) Awareness Month! Now you know. My hope is to make several (possibilities range from 1-30) posts about various aspects of how EDS effects my life and things that I experience that I might not always talk about or might not always be visible (whooooooo!). But since this is the first post I am going to do a brief re-overview of what EDS is (to see last year’s post for more detail click here). I am not going to touch much on the new classifications/criteria mostly because I don’t quite understand it myself (sorry guys). Links will be throughout for more enticing information!!

What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes?

       Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes (EDS) is a group of inherited connective tissue disorders that effect your body’s ability to produce strong collagen. Collagen is essentially the glue that holds your body together and is the most abundant protein in the body. With EDS, your collagen is weak or faulty. There are different types of collagen and each type forms certain types of tissue, bone, organ, muscle, and joint. The different types of EDS are due to mutations on different types of collagen (mostly joints vs mostly vasculature etc). That being said, if you have Vascular EDS you can still have hypermobility issues, it can get very complicated. EDS is a systemic disorder that is much more than just being bendy! Most types of EDS are rare, but hEDS/hypermobility EDS/type 3 is NOT rare and current estimates place its prevalence at around 1 in every 250. That being said, EDS is rarely diagnosed and rarely understood even in many medical circles. Every case of EDS is different, even when in families which can make it hard to diagnose. As my cardiologist says, “if you can’t connect the issues, think connective tissues”!

How is your life with EDS different than your “typical” peers?

        Probably the major ones would be coping with chronic severe pain, having less energy, and having the schedule of an 80 year old (hospital visits, PT, OT, medications galore, pharmacy trips, naps). When I try and explain it to others some go with the “remember that time you got a bad case of the stomach flu, how you felt? yeah it is like that but we spoonies don’t get better” but I don’t really like that. It does a pretty good job on the comprehension level but it further separates us and points out our differences rather than our similarities. I, too, procrastinate on my schoolwork with Netflix. I, too, laugh at memes. I, too, want to graduate from college and have a job. I am not saying we have to ignore our differences but it can be hard enough to fit in when many of your peer groups activities are out of reach for you (sometimes literally haha). I also don’t talk a lot about my pain with others because I don’t want pity. My illnesses are a part of me but they do not define me.

If they discovered a cure tomorrow would you take it?

      This one is hard to explain but probably not. EDS sucks but it is as much a part of me as having red hair is or speaking a bunch of languages. It has shaped me and my direction and made me tough as nails. That being said, if someone came to me with a viable pain medication we might have a different conversation.
I really do hope to post more later…stay tuned!

Care about Rare

February 28th is Rare Disease Day.

Now, if you’re like me you might roll your eyes at this one. In a time with social media, ice-bucket challenges, awareness months for every condition known to man, ribbons, and GoFundMe pages, awareness of something is almost always going on. Let us all admit we are burnt out on breast cancer awareness. Don’t get me wrong, breast cancer sucks but the funding and publicity are not correlated with its prevalence, deadliness, or need for awareness. Additionally, caring burnout is occurring due to politics, wars, tragedies, disasters, and maybe even the loss of your beloved pet rock “Rocky Balboa”. Whatever is going on in your life, I hear you, your frustrations and hurt are valid.

Now let me tell you about why Rare Disease Day is important.

First off, lets get our knowledge on because who knows anything about this stuff, let’s be honest. According to the Global Genes Project:

Orphan drugs are drugs specifically for treating rare diseases.
In 1983, the US passed the Orphan Drug Act which allocates grant
funding to companies researching and developing orphan drugs.

 

  • in the US, a rare disease is any condition that affects less than 200,000 people (under 50,000 in the UK)
  • 80% of all rare disease patients are affected by approximately 350 diseases
  • 50% of people with rare diseases are children
  • 35% percent of deaths in the first year of life are attributed to rare diseases
  • 30% of children with rare diseases will not live to see their 5th birthday
  • ~50% of rare diseases do not have a specific foundation supporting or researching their rare diseases
  • Only 5% of rare diseases have ANY FDA approved treatment options
Okay, now we have the numbers, so what?
Before I get to the give away your money or talk about it phase, I want to try and tell you what it is like to live in the rare world. It is scary, it is hard, it is time and energy consuming, and often times… seemingly hopeless. This will not be sugarcoated, so skip ahead to the next meme for a jolly good time.
It is going to specialists only to have them say, “that’s just how it is” or “I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do”. It is knowing more about (or even about) your condition than many in the medical fields. It is, unfortunately, getting misdiagnosed, mistreated, or misinformed. It is having your second opinion being google… because there is no one else and you aren’t sure if what the doctor is saying is true or correct or even sane. It is constantly having to be your own advocate, nurse, management team, awareness spokesperson, and cheerleader.  It is weighing being misunderstood or mistreated over getting urgent medical care. It is putting on a smile when all you feel like doing is crying. It is that moment of panic when you have a bad day that you will need help and can’t be all alone. It is being surrounded by people who love and care about you, yet feeling alone. It is making plans with your other rare friend to have a movie marathon but spending the whole time talking about and decompressing about your illness, doctor’s visits, anxieties, and fears. It is carrying a backpack instead of a purse because you need your medications, testing supplies, and toiletries so your mouth doesn’t taste like vomit the rest of your adventure. It is envying people who can say, “oh, I have ____” and not have people say “what?”. It is knowing that if you wound up in the ER and couldn’t communicate and people didn’t have your information… normal treatments could kill you. It is having pre-programmed phrases to spit out to explain your conditions, witty comebacks to counter arrogance, and feeling the need to justify yourself so people understand. It is getting told you could fix your diseases if you prayed harder. Or drank only kale. Or by righting your sins. All from random strangers. Above all, it is isolation and uncertainty.
So what can you do?
  • Spread awareness on social media, not just today…any day
  • Talk about rare diseases
  • Donate to rare disease research
  • Donate to companies working on orphan drugs
  • And last, but certainly not least, know that you are never alone: with our without a rare disease!
Click on picture to learn more or donate!