The sting

Well, I’ve been taking Copaxone (Glatiramer Acetate) for about a week now. I administered my first injection under the gaze of my wonderful MS nurse last Monday.

When I was on Rebif I didn’t really inject into my arm or leg, favouring the fattier parts of my anatomy. It has been my arse and my belly that have borne the brunt over the years, frankly, and as such, I am only now, months later, starting to lose the red patches below my navel.

Injecting with Copaxone however is a more serious prospect in terms of injection site reactions. You really do need to set up a rota of sites to pierce as sustained injecting into one area can cause the destruction of local tissue – quoting my newly copaxone-free friend: “You don’t really think about your ass till it’s kinda disappeared.”

It’s particularly important as my injections are now part of a daily regime rather than being a three-times-a-week occurence.

The thing they don’t tell you is how much it HURTS…

“Yeah, it’s like a bee sting,” smiled my nurse, breezily. “I thought I’d tell you AFTER you’d injected.”

Bloody hell!

I felt like my daughters might have felt after they’d walked a mile, on a promise, to the local ice cream factory and found the little hatch had shut early.

It took about an hour for me to be able to bend my arm again.

I asked my friend if the pain got better over time. “Maybe a little,” she lied.

To be fair, the arm is the worst. I can shrug off the pain in all the other areas, but with the arms, I can’t even shrug. It’s like those “dead-arms” we used to administer to each other as an endurance style contest at secondary school… bruised and pummelled limbs hanging weakly at our sides to the puzzlement of our teachers as we entered each lesson.

The plus side is that a daily injection is easier to remember than a Monday, Wednesday, Friday injection. Particularly if you have trouble remembering what day of the week it is or how old you are, like I do.

A tip I learnt off YouTube is to take one of those Sharpie pens and write the days of the week and the injection site on each of the packets. So it might say “Monday left bum,” “Tuesday left leg,” “Wednesday right leg” etc. I also now know a new spot on my legs as well (top rather than side) so that will break things up rather nicely.

Today is “Tuesday left arm” though, so not looking forward to that, particularly as yesterday it was “Monday right arm.” I’m gonna have to rethink my rota, I reckon.

Anyway, in six months time I will have built up enough Copaxone in my system for it to start properly working. It’s the best option for me right now. I’ll keep my ears to the ground with any new developments in disease modifying treatments, and I can always ditch and switch if anything better becomes available.

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Back to square one

Just like the election of a pope, or the announcement of the winner in some Saturday prime time family entertainment bollocks, I expect you’re all on tenterhooks wondering which disease modifying medication I’m going to plump for.

I don’t know 100%, but here’s my quick notes so far (apologies for superficiality):

Beta Interferon (Rebif, Avonex, Betaferon, etc)

– It’s a no for this as I’ve just given it up after six years. It made me extremely depressed – see Beta Interferon Blues.

Glatiramer Acetate (Copaxone)

– a big possibility. The only things against it are the injection site reactions and the daily injections.

Teriflunomide (Aubagio)

– no greater relapse reduction than copaxone, I think, but with a few extra side effects such as hair loss, gastric nastiness etc

Fingolimod (Gilenya)

– a risk of some heart problems, including arhythmia and in extreme cases cardiac arrest. Also a risk of macular oedema in the eyes. It’s a no to this as I’d rather eliminate the risk completely.

Alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)

– It’s a no to this as it can make you vulnerable to infection. I am married to a teacher and I have two primary school age children. I also spend a lot of time with my hands in the earth on my allotment. I’m exposed to a lot of infections. Also there could be blood clotting and thyroid issues. Once you have the infusion, there’s no going back – it’s not like you can stop taking it.

Natalizumab (Tysabri)

– The brain disease PML is documented among Tysabri users, but thankfully extremely rare. I think I would only be eligible for this if I had extremely active MS anyway. I don’t fancy having infusions every four weeks – they’re not something I can do quickly and easily in the comfort of my own home.

Dimethyl Fumarate (Tecfidera)

– this is my number one choice. In trials it has reduced relapse rates by something like 45-50% and is delivered twice daily in tablet form. There are gastric side effects – nausea, diarhoea etc, but I’ve done my homework and there are coping strategies and the nastiness should wear off over time. Worth a try, I thought. There’s one little drawback: it hasn’t been approved by NICE yet, so isn’t available to NHS patients at the moment. A decision is due in August according to the NICE website.

So there you go… I have more reading to do, but at the moment, it’s Dimethyl Fumarate first, and if that doesn’t work out Glatiramer Acetate is the fall-back.

I had a wobbly moment while talking to my better half last night (lost my balance slightly as I turned round). I think she’s worried that I’m not on any meds at the moment, but I think I would’ve done that anyway. I guess whatever medication I choose doesn’t guarantee a long term improvement in conditions.

The Beta Interferon blues – update

After just two injections I can feel the familiar feelings returning. Aside from the flu-like side effects (achey joints), I have been waking up, not suicidal, but with little enthusiasm for life shall we say?

One phonecall to my MS nurse later and I can announce that Rebif and I are officially no longer an item.

A(nother) month of no drugs should clear my system and by that point I’ll have a meeting with my neurologist about possible alternatives.

Of course, one of those alternatives might be a lower dose of Rebif, because whatever I say about it, it has done its job by keeping relapses at bay.

But I’m going to celebrate tonight. I’m looking forward to being officially completely drug free for the first time in six years with all the benefits that brings.

The Beta Interferon blues.

I’m about to go back on Rebif after a four week trial period of coming off it.

It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done this, I tend not to take it on holiday (just a hassle) or over Christmas (to give myself a break).

So, have I noticed any changes?

On the negative side, I’ve noticed some extra dizziness and tingling arms and hands. A couple of days ago I woke up with a partially numb right forearm extending into my little finger, which isn’t usual for me.

And that’s it!

Of course I realise that a prolonged period off the meds increases the chance of a relapse etc, so I’m going to start injecting again tonight to see what happens next.

On the positive side (and this is a big one) I’m happier.

Granted, I’ve been on holiday to Florida over the last four weeks which might explain my improved Disneyfied mood, but I haven’t had the usual back to work blues this time.

I can quantify the improved mood as well.

A couple of months before I came off Rebif, my GP asked how I was feeling and handed me a mood questionnaire. The same questionnaire is available on the NHS website. I scored pretty highly: 15 out of 20, I think, which puts me bubbling under ‘severely depressed.’

If I complete the questionnaire now, I score 3 or 4, and I get those for MS related things rather than anything mood related. I might get up a lot in the night, for instance, because of my bladder.

Because my mood has improved, I’ve been eating less and been more energetic. I’m also sleeping better. My wife jokes that she doesn’t know many people who can go on holiday to the States and lose ten pounds, but I did. Ten pounds!! In two weeks!

Among the listed side effects of beta interferon 1a (Rebif and Avonex) is suicidal thoughts and depression, so it will be interesting to see what happens when I resume the meds. I’ll be monitoring my mood score and contacting my MS nurse if my situation changes.

The medication choices have changed in the six years since I was diagnosed, so if the worst comes to the worst I’ll have some research to do.

Anyway, wish me luck. Time to get those syringes ready.

Mild relapse?

I have been on beta interferon (Rebif) for nearly two years now and in that time I haven’t had a relapse.

Or have I?

Beta interferon is supposed to reduce the likelihood of having a relapse and minimise the effects if you do get one. Back in January 2009, when I came off gabapentin, I experienced a temporary worsening of symptoms such as fatigue, pain, heavy legs and one instance of flashy lights in front of my eyes. Was it a minor relapse as the neurologist thought? Was it the side-effects of coming off the gabapentin? Or was it the underfoot rumbles of the MS volcano?

I don’t know. I suspect all three depending on when you ask me.

I have a similar thing going on at the moment. In addition to the usual symptoms, I have had a couple of weeks where I have had a worsening of pain in my arms especially, mild spasticity in my left arm and both feet, hands that feel as if they are gently transporting a cactus as opposed to the usual background tingle, heavy legs again, fatigue, mild vertigo, uncontrolled movements in my calf muscles and last night, definite phosphenes in my right field of vision as I moved my eyes around.

So is it the hot weather?

Is it the MS Monster rolling over in it’s sleep?

Or is it a mild relapse?

I’m not inclined to bother anybody about it until my next yearly meet up with the neuro. My neuro is “running late” this year, apparently. Running late in the sense of he can’t see me in June as would normally happen, but will be able to when his appointments begin again in August, and the 115 people in front of me in the queue have been seen first.

In the meantime, I have restarted taking the amitriptyline.

My MS History – Part Six

After one more session of double-checking with the consultant where he had yet another student in tow – it seemed I was becoming a textbook example of nystagmus – it became apparent that the steroids really hadn’t done their job. So to suppress my existing symptoms I was prescribed Gabapentin.

I had been given details of Disease Modifying Drugs (DMDs) prior to this meeting and using the MS Decisions website, made my choice which I was going to spend the foreseeable future taking…

… and then I made it again.

Rebif it was – sub-cutaneous injections three times a week but with the downer that it had to be kept in the fridge.

Eventually a large box with all the gubbins turned up along with my monthly courier. By all the gubbins, I mean travel cool-bags (one large, one small), rebijector (injection pen), supporting literature, diary, “passports,” sharps bin, injection site cushion (that I could heat or freeze), and the medication itself.

Two weeks at 8mg and two weeks at 22mg, and then I could expect a delivery of the 44mg syringes.

I have been relatively side-effect free, but I did get a couple of instances of flu-like side-effects with Rebif.

The worst day of side effects happened when I had the mother of all hot flushes. One January morning at 6am, I stepped out to my car in just a summer dressing gown, surprised that it was quite mild, only for it to be minus seven when I checked my in-car thermometer later.

The Gabapentin, meanwhile, had turned me into a zombie. Not only that, but a zombie who occasionally had disturbing hallucinations.

Being a vegetarian and not at all into human flesh eating, I decided to ditch these drugs, for the good of my (and everyone else’s) sanity. I had “accidentally” forgotten to take them for a number of days, and while my hands started to feel as though they were holding a cactus again and my legs started feeling like they were made of lead, I felt more mentally alert and alive. I hadn’t even reached the full dosage.

In fairness to gabapentin, I have since found out that I work with someone with on a much higher dose than I was ever going to take, who said that they have no side-effects at all with it.

I went to see my GP and while he was thumbing through his British National Formulary for a suitable alternative, I told him that I wanted to give Amitriptyline a go. He agreed and I have been on these ever since with no side-effects. They make me a little drowsy late on, but that sends me to sleep nicely. They also help with the leg pain and the tingling.