Of Mice, Medicine, and Malefactors

Older Brother and his wife, Aunt Krusty, sent me a fabulous little doohicky from a medieval town they visited. It’s a brooch of a common design element used in the Middle Ages: a tabby cat with two tails and fabulous eyebrows offering a mouse, with the legend, “visis mu” — “here’s the mouse.”

Pewter pin of tabby cat as described in text.

Close inspection shows both letter “s”s to be upside down. I’ve known a few artisans, and they like making people twist their heads around. Besides, that’s relevant. You’ll see why.

The enclosed card contains the usual wonderfully vague, semi-academic wording saying that animals with two tails (no mention of fabulous eyebrows) are signifiers of evil forces at work, but beyond that, nobody really knows what this means.

I thought some academics kept cats…?

My lovely polyglot friend Sylvie does. Sylvie is a CRPS compatriot who lost a frightening percentage of weight late last year, from which she’s still recovering. Her cat Nala has become a serial killer of the entire species Rodentia, bringing her grisly accomplishments to lay at Sylvie’s feet — or couch, or pillow — with startling frequency. Naturally, they aren’t always quite dead.

Pinto cat biting into white mouse on a lawn.

Not Nala, but a kindred spirit. Photo Tomasz Sienicki @ Wikimedia Commons.


Cats don’t have thumbs, so they don’t really get it about cooking and cupboards. All Nala knows is that Sylvie obviously needs to work on her hunting skills, but in the meantime, Nala can at least help her fatten up.

Also, cats tend to gatomorphize, just as those of us who are close to them tend to anthropomorphize. Nala has no idea that mice, gophers, shrews, and moles do Sylvie no good at all; that, on the contrary, they’re upsetting, messy, and potentially infectious. Nala thinks they’re good, and Nala cares for Sylvie, so they must be good for Sylvie.

She honestly believes that, with all her furry, loving little heart. “Visis mu! Have this great mouse!” So the slaughter continues.

Sylvie’s garden blooms, but her house is an abattoir at times. This is not a bad metaphor for explaining one of the more difficult aspects of being under a doctor’s care.

Most doctors really mean well. Becoming a physician takes an enormous amount of work, which requires great commitment to complete. It’s a hard job with ridiculous hours, especially for the first few years.

That doesn’t mean they’re all bright or gifted or even humane. It just means they believe in the value of medicine and surgery, enough to spend a decade or more learning to do it.

Line drawing of doctor going over an x-ray with patients.

There is much care and dedication among many doctors.


Doctors are intensely, let’s say, socialized to stay within the parameters of accepted practice. It keeps them out of trouble, although it may also keep them from true excellence at times.

Mostly, they love those parameters. They love having guidelines. They are truly, madly, deeply convinced of the value of the meds and procedures that they’re trained in. It doesn’t help that, if they put a foot wrong outside of those parameters and things don’t go well, they can lose everything. They are heavily incented, so to speak, to stay inside whatever they understand their parameters to be.

And, of course, the peer pressure is enormous.

And, of course, the peer pressure is enormous.


Now, this is tough for CRPS patients. There is so much variation from one CRPSer to the next, that there are NO established treatment parameters that meet the medical gold standard of being consistent, repeatable and reliable over a majority of patients.

None. Nada. Zilch. There is not one thing that consistently works well for most of us — at least nothing that comes from a bottle or an operating room. Activity, rest, hydration and nutrition all seem to be key, but even their benefits are hugely variable, and you rarely hear about them from physicians.

For a while, it was thought that COX-2 inhibitors combined with membrane stabilizers, came close to being a semi-magical bullet. (Gabapentin/ Neurontin, pregabalin/Lyrica, and so on, are known to most patients as anti-seizure meds, but many healthcare providers call them membrane stabilizers.)

Then it turned out that the Dr. Scott Reuben, the physician who popularized that treatment, was making the numbers up (here, reported to his colleagues and here, reported to science fans.)

Old poster of a show called, "Pinocchio, the tale of a marionette"

He was so busy being a puppet of the drug companies paying him, that he forgot what it means to be real.


COX-2 inhibitors were given a general thumbs-down over cardiac effects (which many people with chronic CRPS have enough trouble with anyway) and, as peri-surgical meds, did not live up to Reuben’s promise that subsequent chronic pain would be less.

Ironically, it had already been established that 500 mg of vitamin C two or three times daily for 3 months after surgery does have significant demonstrated benefit, reducing the incidence of CRPS – the most intractable and severe form of chronic pain – by 35-80%, depending on the extremity, extent of injury, and probably the degree of compliance. Moreover, vitamin C is very cheap, as well as very effective. (See extensive links list below.)

The anti-seizure meds, unfortunately for pain patients, did not get removed from first-line treatment.

By then, unfortunately, whole nations (Great Britain and the Netherlands, take a bow) had adopted Reuben’s corrupt recommendations for first-line treatment. It takes a lot more effort to undo that level of adoption than it does to hoodwink an entire sub-economy of peer reviewers and medical specialists, apparently.

The arrogantly reputable journals that accepted his work, and subsequently published other work which was based unquestioningly on his false results, are still trying to live it down. What’s interesting is that other doctors couldn’t replicate his results, so he was the only one publishing these great data… yet journals and physicians continued to publish and follow his recommendations. I do hope the journals revised their “peer-review” process to include more actual, I don’t know, reviewing, perhaps by peers.

Old cartoon of Pinocchio sitting on a pile of books, with a book open on his lap.

It took a lot of people to permit and perpetuate Reuben’s false reports. They are not innocent.


It could take decades to undo much of his damage, and meanwhile, the advancement of treatment has been down the wrong track for years, while other more appropriate avenues of treatment have been ignored or even forgotten.

So, millions of CRPS patients are being first-lined with truly obnoxious meds with iffy benefits and ghastly side-effects, rather than being examined as individuals, and assessed as to whether:

  • neurotransmitter support, most provably with antidepressants, would be more appropriate, given disease-related onset of affective symptoms (antidepressants), sleep problems (tricyclics), or dysautonomia (SNRI);
  • a short, hard attack of narcotics and aggressive PT would answer in the case of a hardy, active, or young person;
  • a proprietary or tech-based treatment, like TCMI or Calmare, are indicated for those who show active neuroplasticity or respond well to electrical stim; or
  • this person is a good candidate for ketamine protocols of one kind or another, some of which are no more toxic than membrane stabilizers.
  • it might be reasonable to try a more experimental approach which has demonstrated significant promise, notably magnesium infusions, immune globulin therapy, or temporary immune suppression.

Oops… Doctors, as a group, forgot to look at the patients in their excitement to have a designated treatment protocol. “Visis mu! Take this mouse – it’s government approved!

If you've worked with government agencies, you know why they're laughing.

If you’ve worked with government agencies, you know why they’re laughing.


But the doctors doing the offering really think this is a great idea. That’s what the guidelines say, after all, and they are evidence-based – except that that evidence was cooked.

While anti-seizure meds do work very well for some, starting with them reflexively is not reasonable: the cost-benefit profile is worse than most of the other potential first-line alternatives, due to high rates of side effects and comparatively unimpressive rates of usefulness.

Using them as a first-line treatment delays more effective, lower-cost treatment for many people in horrific pain, and, between the delay and the cognitive and neurologic side effects of this class of drugs, causes greater impairment (with higher associated costs) in far too many. It should be a second or even third line treatment, if you go by the evidence that has remained credible – taking a back seat to less fraught (not perfect, but still less problematic) therapeutic agents and interventions.

But the docs who lean on it really think it’s great.

sketch of excessively happy doctor running with a hypodermic needle

“Visis mu! Visis mu! Look – it’s a great mouse!”


Reminds me of my previous pain doctor, a competent technician with a bedside manner directly related to the patient’s appearance. He has a good reputation in his area – which tells you what a lot of rubbishy practitioners there were in the area.

He wanted to shove into the neck of my spinal column a couple of widgets which were the size of Starbucks drinking straws – you know, those really fat ones that you could suck a steak through, if it’s tender enough. Two of those, jammed into a six-inch length of a space that didn’t have enough room for one, and which – as we now know – was already inflamed in much the same way that the spinal cord of someone with a spinal cord injury is inflamed.

He liked it because shoving surgical hardware into other people’s bodies is what he does best, and these widgets have embedded electrodes which could zap the pain signal at the spinal root of my arms and he thought it would work really well and I had the right psych profile for it and this was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

"Visis mu! Visis mu! This is a truly excellent mouse which I am shoving smugly up your spine!"

“Visis mu! Visis mu! This is a truly excellent mouse which I am shoving smugly up your spine!”


It was a nice idea, and, again, this particular thing works spectacularly well for some people. For me, not so much. In fact, it was a disaster. It was truly worse than the CRPS pain, which takes some doing. The equipment trial still gives me spasms due to the mere memory of the staggering physical trauma it entailed.

Truly, each of us is unique.

Once he realized that I couldn’t accept his mouse, his whole manner changed. Just like a sulky cat, nursing his disappointment seemed a lot more important to him than finding something that would help me.

How could I be so callow and blind that I couldn’t appreciate this great mouse he wanted to give me? There’s just no helping some people! His neglect and disaffection was so damaging I had to fire him and move on to the excellent Dr. Richeimer at USC Pain Center, 4 hours’ drive away and worth the two-night stay in the armpit of LA.

Another dear friend, the angelically kind M, has roughly 3 dozen anaphylactic reactions a year. She is so hyper-reactive to so many things that driving past a town with the wind in the wrong direction could be the death of her. 3 dozen anaphylactic reactions a year, and she’s in her fifties now. Yes, amazing.

She saw a young cardiologist, who did what young cardiologists do: he threw upon her a huge, bloody gopher, covered in prickles and gore. “Your heart is dicky! This could kill you in a year! Visis mu, I can save you! Isn’t this exciting?”

Sepia-toned photo of a very dead, gutted gopher.

I processed this image out of respect for M’s exquisite sensibilities.


Personally, I think the appropriate thing to do is to pick that gopher up and shove it down his throat, but when a patient does it, it’s assault and battery with a biohazardous weapon.

The cardiologist, naturally, is doing exactly what he was trained to do and is wildly excited to have such a thrilling case and such interesting news. She, who already faces death on a weekly basis, should clearly get wound up about this because it might kill her if she doesn’t.

Gopher poking head out of hole, looking grumpy, with long claws and nasty teeth.

“Visis mu! This is a glorious mou — er, gopher! Check out those charming teeth, those tiny claws, that helpful expression! Awesome!

A brickbat? A muzzle? What do you think? Words simply fail. All I can think of is applying to him the kind of cat that has nine tails. It’s not a good way to model compassion, let alone tact, however.

As for me, I have to pick a primary doc for myself. My old one retired from private practice, and I miss him, because I could just walk in and look at him and he’d know.

I’m just thrilled at the prospect of training someone new, who will be a generalist treating the peripheral issues of someone with an incredibly peripheral-intensive disease. There will to be many rounds of “visis mu”, as he comes up to speed. And, since it’s all well-intended, I have to find a way to accept one or two mice as graciously as possible. One can only recoil so often before they decide they can’t treat you.

"Visis mu! I care for you, so let me do this wildly inappropriate thing, because I’m too rushed to think things all the way through!"

“Visis mu! I care for you, so let me do this wildly inappropriate thing, because I’m too rushed to think things all the way through!”


They mean well. They really do.

I never have figured out what to do when a cat, with every evidence of caring attention, brings me a mouse. I try to be nice about it, and that’s the best I can do.

Obit
Sadly, Sylvie’s furry little caregiver, Nala, departed this earth for the Happy Hunting Grounds. By a series of flukes, Sylvie wound up with a rescue cat, Filou (meaning roughly “brat” or “mischief-maker”), who has taken over her care with great enthusiasm — and much less bloodshed.

Links

Grouped by subject.

Sylvie’s blog on “neuroalgodystrophie”, mostly French but some bilingual French/English: http://sylvieghyselscrpsdrc.wordpress.com/

Blog on managing immune suppression and chronic pain with few drugs and much natural care (not M’s, but in that field): http://www.tamingthebeast.ca/

Scott Reuben’s villainy, as reported to colleagues in Anesthesiology News:
http://www.anesthesiologynews.com/ViewArticle.aspx?d_id=21&a_id=12868
And in Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-medical-madoff-anesthestesiologist-faked-data/

Vitamin C after surgery or trauma, value established before Reuben’s fall:
From 1999, in The Lancet: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(99)03059-7/abstract
From 2002, in Belgian orthopedic periodical: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12584978
From 2007, in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery: http://jbjs.org/content/89/7/1424.long

CRPS at the top of the McGill Pain Index:
https://elleandtheautognome.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/mcgill-pain-index-crps-and-fibromyalgia/

UK treatment protocols for GPs treating CRPS: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/complex-regional-pain-full-guideline.pdf

Netherlands treatment protocols for treating CRPS: http://www.posttraumatischedystrofie.nl/pdf/CRPS_I_Guidelines_patient_version.pdf

Relatively useful treatments for CRPS:
Most suggestions are pulled from the current IASP recommendations for diagnosis and treatment of CRPS or the pivotal work of Dr. R. J. Schwartzman, Dr. van Rijn, and Dr. Breuhl (part of the team that developed the IASP guidelines), with updates from recent science available on PubMed.

Dr. Robert J. Schwartzman’s seminal works..
Outstanding primer on CRPS and what it can do in Systemic Complications of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
Neuropsychological deficits associated with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Dr. van Rijn’s Spreading of complex regional pain syndrome: not a random process

IASP current recommendations: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/pme.12033/full#pme12033-sec-0023
Simplified diagnostic tool using IASP criteria: http://biowizardry.info/wp/2014/12/the-hidden-simplicity-of-diagnosing-complex-regional-pain-syndrome/

The authors have their blind spots and biases, of course, so researching any therapies that sound interesting is a good use of time.

The National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (U.S.) is an outstanding clearinghouse of articles from peer-reviewed scientific journals: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=complex+regional+pain+syndrome
Just add the term of the treatment you’re interested in to the MeSH term, “complex regional pain syndrome”, to maximize useful hits.

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The hidden simplicity of diagnosing Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

CRPS, formerly known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophe (RSD) or Causalgia, sometimes called Sudeck’s Atrophy, and elsewhere called Neuroalgodystrophy (among other things), is confusing to label accurately because it’s not only complex, but it’s a disease of exceptions.

In many cases, pain is not sympathetically maintained; hence the deprecation of the name RSD. Atrophy doesn’t always happen; hence the deprecation of the name Sudeck’s Atrophy. And, most importantly, it is not a psychogenic disease[1], making the name neuroalgodystrophy, or the presumptive diagnoses of somatoform disorder or conversion disorder, irrelevant — not to mention prejudicial and counterproductive.

The earliest professional description in the historical record of a syndrome like CRPS occurs in the notes of Ambroise Pare’, groundbreaking surgeon and father of forensic pathology, as well as court physician of French king Charles IX in the late 1500′s[2]. Between North America and Europe, further descriptions and case studies appeared over the next few hundred years[1]. Consistent diagnostic characteristics were described by neurologist and American Civil War battle physician Silas Weir Mitchell in the mid-1860′s[3], who saw many hundreds of cases due to the peculiarities of the ballistics used in that war.

Thus, CRPS does not qualify as a “disease of modernity”, the cluster of diseases characterized by distributed pain, lethargy, memory/cognitive impact, and immune dysfunction. In fact, it predates the Industrial Revolution by a couple of centuries. CRPS has also been described in animals[4]. In short, there is no compelling evidence that CRPS is anything other than a disruptive companion of mammalian neurology, which has become more recognized as humans are living longer despite impairments, and describing illness better.

Various attempts have been made to create coherent diagnostic criteria. Sadly, they’ve been written and published by physicians, who rarely have the distinct skillset of information architecture — but who do have lots of practice using double negatives, complex constructions, and the passive voice. The inevitably garbled paragraphs which result from using this professional style to describe the diagnosis of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome come across, however unconsciously, as sloppy and ill-defined, regardless of the underlying information.

After much thought and research, this blogger’s view is that the most recent (2013) IASP diagnostic criteria[5] may not be perfect, but are currently the best we have for all-around clinical use. Therefore, in the interests of obviating (that is, doing an end-run around) the confusion, this blogger — who is an information architect — has turned the diagnostic criteria into a simple checklist.

Once completed for each patient, this checklist not only delivers a yes/no for CRPS diagnosis, but also highlights which features of that case are salient, and where treatment of that person should probably focus.

Full-sized PDF format is downloadable and available for free under Creative Commons Share-Alike Attribution International licensure. In other words, wherever you are in the world, you are free to use and alter this, copy it, pass it on, even charge for it — as long as it contains a link to this page (biowizardry.info) or its companion page, livinganyway.com, and you don’t try to claim or assert IP rights. It’s appropriate to pass it on as freely as it’s offered to you. Use it in good health — whenever possible.

REFERENCES

1. CRPS not psychogenic; also, history of CRPS:

Feliu, M., and Edwards, C.L. Psychologic Factors in the Development of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: History, Myth, and Evidence. Clin J Pain, Volume 26, Number 3, March/April 2010.

2. King Charles IX, 1550-1574, had persistent burning pain, muscle wasting, and contractures following bloodletting with smallpox: Pare, A., 1634. Of the Cure of Wounds of the Nervous System.

The Collected Works of Ambroise Pare. Milford House, New York.

3. S. Weir Mitchell, Morehouse and Keen on causalgia:

Gunshot Wounds and Other Injuries of Nerves. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott Co., 1864.

«As to pain, I am almost ready to say that the physician who has not felt it is imperfectly educated.» S. Weir Mitchell.

4. CRPS in animals:

Bergadano, A., Moens, Y. and Schatzmann, U. (2006), Continuous extradural analgesia in a cow with complex regional pain syndrome. Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia, 33: 189–192.

PMID: 16634945

5. Yet another link to the PDF of the Diagnostic Criteria checklist:

http://biowizardry.info/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/CRPS_Diagnostic_CheckList.pdf

Creative Commons License
CRPS: Diagnostic Checklist by CRPS Publications is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Intrathecal Baclofen vs. intramuscular Botox for CRPS-related dystonia

If you’re considering injectable therapy for CRPS-related dystonia, you have probably heard of Botox (which is commonly used in spine-injured people to help with spastic bladders and other muscular issues), and you may have tried oral baclofen, which has the systemic and cognitive effects of its class. You may not know that baclofen can be injected into the spinal cord (intrathecally), providing therapeutic effects below the level of injection.

Based on the studies found in Pub Med, baclofen is far more effective, but requires more vigilance, largely due to it’s invasiveness and the equipment issues of intrathecal injections.

Botox doesn’t seem to do anything consistently in CRPS, for either dystonia or pain, except perhaps for prolonging the effect of stellate ganglion blocks; its rate of complications is low.

Of course, it does work for some people, but that can be said of almost any Level 2 or Level 3 medication used for this condition. CRPS is highly individuated, and its treatment certainly has to be individualized. This is the one constant feature of CRPS management.

On the basis of overall results, I would expect to see a wider acceptance of a more generally effective agent like baclofen, over the popular but generally insipid Botox injections.

Dystonia, unlike pain, is specifically crippling, even in a mild case. It impairs function in the most basic life tasks, from walking to eating.

INTRATHECAL BACLOFEN (ITB)

• Studied in CRPS since 2000.
• Results generally very good for dystonia, pain, or both. The best- designed study on dystonia showed excellent results.
• Doesn’t work for everyone (of course.)
• Dose and duration must be sufficient.
• Careful monitoring for complications.

INJECTED BOTOX

Pub Med only has two relevant studies.
• Of these two studies, one says it’s useless for dystonia, one says it’s great for pain.
• One study for allodynia: it’s no good.
• One study for improving stellate ganglion block: it’s excellent.
I haven’t looked outside of pub med. I’d be interested to see more solid data about it. This seems pretty random.

These bullet points, plus accompanying tables showing the studies and results referenced here, are in the PDF below.

ITBaclofen-vs-IMBotox

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Teaming with other orgs? (With annotated list of online CRPS resources for patients and professionals)

One of my compatriots posed interesting questions on one of my online groups: why don’t we work with larger and better-funded orgs? Why do we have no chapter-based organizations for this disease?

I strongly suspect that there are several issues intertwining to create this lack:

  1. Until recently, this disease was so poorly understood that there were no stable diagnostic criteria, let alone a stable name. This means there was no coherent banner to gather under. Coming from over a decade in health care, most of it as an RN, I can definitely say, as a matter of practical politics, that the medical community will NOT come together over an ill-defined disease. Without the legitimacy the medical community brings, it would be mighty hard to find any major or stable funding sources for an illness. It’s pretty much impossible to get more than a passing nod from larger orgs with well-defined goals.
  2. It’s still believed to be terribly rare, but in fact it’s hideously underdiagnosed. In studies where people are followed post-injury or post-surgery by professionals trained in CRPS diagnosis, it’s been noted that 7%-18% of those patients develop CRPS, and that’s just in the studies I’ve seen while looking for other data. That’s not too darn rare at all! (Naturally, with prompt and skilled treatment, there is a high rate of remission in these early diagnoses.) This level of under-diagnosis is even more worrisome for established orgs to deal with. Doctors, when acting en masse, are conservative to the point of being reactionary, and don’t welcome uncertainty.
  3. Nobody with pull advocates for CRPS, or at least nobody with the clout to make funds follow. (Paula Abdul is not widely seen as a leader, although she has many gifts, and — sadly — MacGyver has been in reruns for years.)
  4. Only in the last 10-15 years or so has CRPS treatment been functional. Until then, the most usual process was to drug us into silence and wait for us to die, which — with care — typically took 25-30 years of progressive weakness, pain, fragility, and debility. Such a flaccid population is not interesting from the outside. Sad, but true. Therefore, we only have about a decade of CRPSers who can function and advocate and ever do anything besides just try to cope. (Only a few enlightened doctors did anything differently. Pediatric treatment led adult treatment by a couple of decades, I suspect because they had parents without CRPS insisting on functional treatments; these kids then grew up.)
  5. Due to the twinned issues of ignorance about CRPS and poor communications technology, it’s only been about 8-10 years that we have had a truly networked society of CRPSers to refer to. Many of us, who’ve had it for longer, still remember how close we came to ending it all out of sheer isolation, fear, and desperation, but now we have allies at the end of the keyboard.
  6. Last but by no means least, CRPS IS EXHAUSTING. Pain is exhausting. Weakness is exhausting. Dysautonomic responses are exhausting. A cardiovascular system that can’t quite figure out which way is up is exhausting. A brain that keeps firing false signals is exhausting. It’s just exhausting. It’s worse than a full-time job with full-time overtime and no benefits. It’s worse than medical school. Worse than law school. Worse than both combined, topped by a never-ending case of the flu and being followed around by a thug with a live cattle prod. We don’t get much of a break for other work, though by gosh, some of us sure do try!

You’ll notice that successful orgs are run by our loved ones or doctors, rarely by CRPSers themselves. It takes a whole lot of energy to run an organization. (This is why I aim for full remission in my search for a cure. I want to have the physical/physiological slack to do the work I really intend to do.)

I think we’re getting on for time to have these kinds of alliances and that kind of localizable organization. I can certainly see why it hasn’t happened until now, but the situation has changed.

There are a number of organizations that recognize CRPS as something they’ll include under their umbrellas, like the (now defunct) American Pain Foundation and Women In Pain. I wouldn’t call them alliances, because we certainly aren’t equals; at this point, we’re ugly stepchildren in the world of medical movements, because we have a disease that is hugely ignored, incredibly complex, and desperately exhausting.

However, there is a future. (There is always a future.) This future includes the fact that we are better organized than we have been until now, better informed than most providers, and can pool our efforts to accomplish far more together than any of us could do alone.

When reading this list, keep in mind, these orgs are not competitive. Each org focuses on its main mission, and does it well (unless stated otherwise, and then that is my opinion.)

It’s important to leave that struggling, pushing mentality behind; we’re all in this together, and we all have something different to bring to the table. Together, we are stronger than we are alone… At times, our self-described allies may need to be reminded of that — tactfully, of course.

The more well-run orgs there are that focus on this disease, the merrier! We need to be able, collectively, to provide many points of entry and to respond to a variety of learning styles, expectations, and needs.

As far as I know, there is no decentralized, patient-run organization which provides a blueprint for opening chapters and simplifying the work of educating and informing local citizens, providers, news outlets, and legislators. While a distributed org is a great idea, up until now, it was a luxury we could not afford. Perhaps it’s time to open up and broaden our reach. (There is a Facebook group, RSD/CRPS Research and Developements, which provides striking postcards with links to current articles on CRPS to distribute to doctors, which is an important step.)

Here are the organizations I know about, and what I know about them. I’ve indicated which are CRPS specific, and which are broader orgs which admit CRPS under their umbrella. It’s not exhaustive, nor should it be. I’m including only what I think would help, and mentioning a few that won’t in order to point out what qualities to be wary of.

CRPS org: Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophe Syndrome Association (RSDSA)

This is probably the most famous of the CRPS online resources, although it still uses the deprecated name, RSD (see Point 1 above.)

RSDSA is driven by physicians and archivists. They are a clearinghouse for medical information and conventional diagnostic and procedural issues. They’re highly reputable in that area, and they don’t even try to do anything beyond that. They provide funding to update CRPS diagnostic criteria as medical understanding of the disease improves.

Great place for medical articles about CRPS to take to the doctor, and essays to help you have some idea what to expect.

CRPS org: CRPS org: American RSD Hope

The people behind this site clearly work hard on developing and maintaining content. In a field as fast-moving as neurologic anything, this is pretty impressive. Their drop-down menus are excellent, and the material they cover is exhaustive. They do a generally good job of being fair and discussing all sides of a topic with reason and clarity. One of the founders has had CRPS for roughly 40 years, which blows me away.

While RSDSA is good for things to throw at your doctor, RSD Hope is a good place to spend time for yourself and with family and friends. Highly recommended.

CRPS org: CRPS UK Clinical Research Network

This is a research collaboration between a number of United Kingdom National Health Service Trusts and British universities, including Cambridge and Southampton. The medical pedigree is nearly bullet-proof.

They are heavily oriented towards professionals, except for the part about recruiting patients for studies. They only have about 300 enrollees, so if you’re a Briton with CRPS interested in participating in a study (not just meds, but demographic and behavioral studies too, including a current study on relationships between partners when one has CRPS) then do contact them.

CRPS org: Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – New Zealand

Patient-run website, with a Links page including treatment centers in NZ and online support groups for New Zealanders. There are videos of several CRPSers, so for those who benefit from that, it’s perfect.

Caveat Emptor: We’re about to get into wobbly territory. Proceed with caution.

CRPS org: International Research Foundation for RSD/CRPS, a.k.a. International Foundation for CRPS & RSD, a.k.a. RSD Foundation

This is run by a physician in Florida who specializes in high-dose ketamine infusions. Much of the site is devoted to flames against those who disagree with his views.

The diagnostic criteria he lists are 12 years old. The intellectual and emotional biases in the site are too blatant and bitter for me to recommend the site generally. If you’re already committed to high-dose ketamine, then the videos may be useful.

Now, let’s look at some organizations that seem to make room for CRPS under a wider umbrella of relevant issues. If any CRPS org or individual were to approach them, it seems like the very first thing we’d need to do (with the exception of the first on this list) is let them know what the disease really is.

Umbrella: USC Center for Pain

My excellent doctor at USC is also head of USC’s Pain Center. The Pain Center is a charitable org which has an annual walk/run/roll in October called Quench the Fire (http://www.quenchthefirerun.org/). I hear it’s good fun, but it’s too early in the morning for my dysautonomia. There is info on the disease and they are working on a study about how the way we talk about pain affects how others see us. Send your friends and family over — better yet, send your enemies and detractors, because they’ll come off looking terrible but yielding good info about how they think: http://painnarratives.adamswenson.net/index.php

The org is credible and informative, but its brief is somewhat limited and its physical location is highly local.

Dr. Steven Richeimer has a video of his hour-long presentation on CRPS for medical students at http://keckmedia.usc.edu/Mediasite/Play/8d9f15df5f2e4cc59278a0d14ed5cf791d

Umbrella: American Foundation for Pain (AFP) — neutralized

The AFP was well known, was reputable despite/because of close ties to the pharmaceutical industry, and had solid contact with legislators, which it used to advocate for better treatment, more funding for treatment, and less in the way of punitive actions against prescribers. This has been confirmed in a tragic way, because they were thrown to the wolves over the last round of legislation against narcotics.

It went like this… Rather than holding the drug companies responsible for releasing misleading info, this org was scapegoated and had its funding pulled, because it got 90% of its info, and funding, from pharma — as does any congress-critter you care to name… so the politicians could act self-righteously shrill about narcotic abuse, without actually doing anything that costs the industry. That’s American politics. The companies are untouched; the charity gets rubbed out.

Meanwhile, there is no more funding for addiction treatment than there was before, which would be a rational and proven approach to the problem. And yet, there is less treatment for pain, because those of us in chronic pain who have flare-ups requiring emergency treatment “fit the criteria for drug-seeking behavior” and this wrongheaded approach has criminalized patients. [NB: Of course we’re seeking drugs! We go to the ER when we really need them! That’s appropriate!]

Lesson learned: I now lean away from American sources that are too close to legislators, even though the American science is so good, and is so depended on by governments and orgs around the world. American politics is toxic for the chronically ill, as are British politics now.

Umbrella: American Pain Association

Provides physician training and certification courses on chronic pain. Very corporate in its approach.

Umbrella: National Organization for Rare Diseases

Very helpful charitable site with info on state-by-state insurance, help with bills, legislation, medical summits, professional training, and support for patient organizations. Sadly, they still use the term Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophe and include CRPS as an alias, the only CRPS/RSD org they recognize is RSDSA (no surprise there — the director is incredibly good at networking), and — most problematic of all — specifically describes CRPS as simply a disorder of the sympathetic nervous system. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The first word of the current name is “Complex” for a reason.

If anyone would like to approach them with updates and information, please do. Given the link to RSDSA, you’d think this had been done already, but hey, look at *their* name…

Umbrella: Women in Pain

Women In Pain has episodic successes with legislation and a photogenic public face (a real asset), so they are certainly worth a look. They they list articles regarding women in pain, list resources for pain and for women’s health, have an online guide for approaching your state government and other intimidating bodies to make a point, and they have done some work on legislation.

Umbrella: NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

This is funded by the U.S. federal government and, in this pro-science administration, is doing pretty well. It is primarily a research organization and a clearing house for information, with the specific task of translating research into usable treatments.

Their description of CRPS is not bad, although it focuses on peripheral symptomatology and changes, with no reference to the central nervous system issues or core, organ, or metabolic issues. They also have the outdated idea that kids under 5 don’t get it.

Umbrella: American Chronic Pain Association

I mention this because it’s an obvious choice, not because I think it’s a good point of entry. Says it includes CRPS, but some of the basic materials completely ignore neuropathic/neurogenic pain. The site reads like it was written by a hospital administrator, and their info for professionals was posted in 2007 — and apparently never looked at again.

This might be a good org to approach with updated info and better integration, if anyone is interested in contacting them and creating an ongoing dialogue. I have no idea if that would go well, but it may be worth trying by someone more diplomatic than I am.

A note on how old the info should be

Be deeply suspicious of older protocols or professional training tools, with CRPS. The most recent, reputable, international diagnostic guidelines are from 2013, funded by the RSDSA. (Full text here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/pme.12033/full .) The IASP criteria, which are widely accepted at least partly because they are sufficiently vague and old as to let the insurance companies opt out of paying for a lot of effective treatments, date to 1994; the RSDSA has channeled funding for periodic updates, of which the “Budapest criteria” from 2003 is the most famous, but they are not necessarily accepted by insurers or providers.

A note on faith-based orgs

My focus is relentlessly secular and heavily scientific in searching for info and support sites. This is partly due to the cultural cross-compatibility of science in medicine, which is key, and perhaps partly due to an idyllic childhood in a region that’s now so torn up with religious strife that it’s hard for me not to see a long-term agenda lurking under every burning bush. I’m not equipped to evaluate faith-based orgs.

However, for those with religious or spiritual leanings one way or another, there is generally an org to be found which supports people in pain or with chronic illness (if not with CRPS particularly) and which follows your particular path. If that helps you, I suggest you look into it, whatever your faith, and please link faith-based orgs which provide solid, useful information in the comments below.

I can say, with absolute certainty, that there is tremendous value to having a strong inward life — whatever you call it, and whatever form it takes.

A note on Anglo-centricity

You’ll have noticed that these are all English-language sites. I don’t have sufficient command of any other language to assess sites in other languages. I’d appreciate suggestions, ladies and gentlemen.

As yet, as far as I know, there is no decentralized, patient-run organization which provides a blueprint for opening chapters and simplifying the work of educating and informing local citizens, providers, news outlets, and legislators. Who would like to start putting one together? I’ll help, but I’m working on this publishing and online art project…

Diagnostic guidelines for different countries

US

IASP-derived guidelines used as the basis of payment and treatment are available to physicians and insurance adjusters, but not patients or the public. I can’t find them online for free. (Now what does that tell you…?)
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: Practical Diagnostic and Treatment Guidelines, 4th Edition
http://rsds.org/pdfsall/CRPS-guidlines-4th-ed-2013-PM.pdf

UK

Dated 12/2011, due for revision in 2016:
Diagnosis and management in adults: Concise guideline
https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/resources/complex-regional-pain-syndrome-guidelines

Netherlands

Available in Dutch and English, with a version for professionals and a version for patients, dated 2006: http://pdver.atcomputing.nl/english.html
Bonus material here: a 5-language foldout card with very basic info (from their guidelines) for emergency treatment:
http://pdver.atcomputing.nl/sos_pages_en.html

Japan

In 2010, the Japanese published a refinement of the IASP diagnostic criteria that better served the Japanese demographic. The paper describing these refinements is available for purchase here:
http://www.painjournalonline.com/article/S0304-3959%2810%2900182-X/abstract

Korea

I looked for specific criteria used in Korea, where a lot of active research is being done on diagnosis (thermography, scintigraphy), characteristics (HPA axis and affective/social changes) and treatment (temporary immune shutdown), but they seem to rely on the Budapest criteria, established in 2003. These are considerably more useful than the original, rather loose IASP criteria, and have been the basis for every revision of the diagnostic criteria since. There have been several revisions; the most recent was in 2013.
A Korean patient site is here: http://www.crps.co.kr/web/index.php

I looked for diagnostic criteria specific to other countries, but my language and my search tools aren’t good enough to find them, if they exist.

For better or worse, English is the common language of medical science training and practice over much of the world. This makes it easier for Anglophones to find the information they need, but it presents a real problem for those who have trouble with such a strange and wordy language.

Links list

Organizations, in the order listed:

  1. Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophe Syndrome Association (RSDSA)

    http://rsds.org/index2.html

  2. American RSD Hope

    http://www.rsdhope.org

  3. CRPS UK Clinical Research Network

    http://www.crpsnetworkuk.org/index.php

  4. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – New Zealand

    http://crps-nz.org

  5. International Research Foundation for RSD/CRPS, a.k.a. International Foundation for CRPS & RSD, a.k.a. RSD Foundation

    http://www.rsdfoundation.org/crps.html

  6. USC’s Pain Center

    http://helpforpain.com

  7. American Pain Association

    http://www.painassociation.org/

  8. National Organization for Rare Diseases

    http://www.rarediseases.org/

  9. Women in Pain

    http://www.forgrace.org/women/in/pain_home/

  10. NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

    http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/reflex_sympathetic_dystrophy/detail_reflex_sympathetic_dystrophy.htm

  11. American Chronic Pain Association

    http://www.theacpa.org/

Diagnostic guidelines:

Bonus links:

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Pain rating scales must describe reality, or they are meaningless

This article got thrashed in the last WordPress update. Correcting and reposting it have been added to the high-priority list… which is only a month long. // ed. 12/2015

The value of valid reporting in medicine is so fundamental there’s no question about it when the issue is explicity raised. Unfortunately, it’s implicitly absent in too many aspects of CRPS care.

The inspiration for this article came from paperwork requiring me to rate my pain on the standard 1-10 scale. This is so irrelevant to life now that it’s simply not approachable.

Between my self-care strategies and spectacular mental gymnastics, the level of what most people would experience as “pain” is a secret even from me, until it’s strong enough to blast through the equivalent of 14 steel doors, each three inches thick. At that point, the numeric level is off the charts.

What’s useful and relevant is how well I can cope with the backpressure caused by the pain reflexes and the central and peripheral nervous system disruption this disease causes.

Read on without fear, because for one thing, it’s not contagious, and for another, your experience of pain — whether you have CRPS or not — is uniquely your own. This is mine, as it has changed over the years…

Step 1: Acute CRPS, with otherwise normal responses

My first pain rating scale, just a few years into the disease’s progress, was suitable for a normal person’s experience. My experience of pain was still pretty normal — apart from the fact that it didn’t know when to stop:

Mental impact Physical changes
0 .
No pain at all. No change.
1 .
Hurts when I stop and look for it. No change.
3 .
Neither looking for it nor distracted. No significant change.
5 .
Noticeable when concentrating on something else. Mild nausea, mild headache, crave comfort food.
7 .
Interferes with concentration. Drop things, grip unreliable. Nausea, headache, appetite loss.
8 .
Difficult to think about anything else. Trouble picking things up.
9 .
Makes concentration impossible. Forget names. Interferes with breathing pattern. No grip.
10 .
Can’t think, can’t speak, can’t draw full breath, tears start – or any 3 of these 4.
Unrated even numbers indicate a worse level of pain than prior odd number, which does not yet meet the criteria of the following odd number. Note that weakness is only loosely related to pain. I drop things and have trouble picking things up at times when I have little or no pain. However, as pain worsens, physical function consistently deteriorates.

Notice how the scale ties the rating numerals to physical and mental function. This is crucial, for two reasons — one personal and one pragmatic:

- Personally, I can’t bear to let misery get the better of me for long. Tying the numbers to specific features keeps the awful emotional experience of pain from overwhelming me. Making the numbers practical makes the pain less dramatic.

- Pragmatically, in the US, health care is funded by a complex system of insurance companies. Insurance companies are profit-driven entities who are motivated not to pay. One upshot is, they don’t pay for pain as such, only for limits on function. This makes my pain scales excellent documentation to support getting care paid for, because THESE numbers are tied to explicit levels of function.

Step 2: Early chronic CRPS, with altered responses

My next was upwardly adjusted to describe learning to live with a higher level of baseline pain and noticeable alterations in appearance and ability:

Mental impact Physical changes
3 .
Noticeable when concentrating on something else. Trouble with new names/faces. Cool to touch @ main points (RCN both, dorsal R wrist, ventral L wrist). Mild hyperesthesia.
5 .
Interferes with concentration. Short-term memory problems. Hard to retain new info. Mild nausea. Grip unreliable. Hyperesthesia pronounced; breeze feels like hot iron. Color changes noticeable.
7 .
Absent-minded. White haze in vision. Hard to build on known info. Can follow ~4 steps. May forget known names. Nausea, headache, appetite loss. Drop things. Cold to touch, often clammy. Arms & palms hurt more to touch.
8 .
Terrible focus. Behavior off-key. Can’t follow step 1 without prompting. Random long-term memory gaps. Forget friends’ names. Can’t pick things up; use two hands for glass/bottle of water. Arms & hands hurt significantly.
9 .
Speech slows. Concentration impossible. Hard to perceive and respond to outer world. Interferes with breathing pattern. No grip. Everything hurts. Swollen extremities.
10 .
Can’t think, can’t speak, can’t stand upright, can’t draw full breath, tears start – or any 3 of these 4.

Notice how specific I am about what general tasks I can complete — following instructions, lifting things. These are the fundamental tasks of life, and how do-able they are is a fairly precise description of practical impairments.

Clinical note: tracking functional impairments is key to getting compensated for delivering appropriate care.

Step 3: Established chronic CRPS

And my third scale changed to describe living with more widespread pain, a higher level of disability, and — most tellingly — a physical experience of life that’s definitely no longer normal:

Mental impact Physical changes
3 .
Neither looking for it nor distracted. Forget new names & faces instantly. Cool to touch @ main points (RCN both, dorsal R wrist, ventral L wrist, lower outer L leg/ankle, R foot, B toes). Hyper/hypoesthesia. Swelling.
5 .
Interferes with concentration. Anxiety levels rise. Lousy S-T memory. Can’t follow directions past step 4. May forget known names. Nausea, headache, appetite loss. Grip unreliable. Hyper/hypoesthesia & swelling pronounced. Color changes. Must move L leg. Limbs and back hurt more to touch.
7 .
Absent-minded. White haze in vision. Can’t build on existing info. Can follow 1 step, maybe 2. May forget friends’ names. Random L-T memory gaps. Irritable. Drop things. Knees buckle on steps or uphill. Cold to touch, often clammy. L foot, B toes, are dark. Limbs and back hurt badly.
8 .
Speech slows. No focus. Behavior off-key. Can’t follow step 1 without prompting. Can’t pick things up; use two hands for glass/bottle of water. No stairs.
9 .
Makes concentration impossible. Hard to perceive and respond to outer world. Interferes with breathing pattern. No grip. No standing. Everything hurts. Swollen extremities, sometimes face.
10 .
Can’t think, can’t speak, can’t stand up, can’t draw full breath, tears start – or any 3 of these 4.

Note how the actual value of each number changes over time. This highlights one of the most persistent problems with the 1-10 scale: its variability, not only from person to person, but from time to time.

At one point, 5/10 meant "Noticeable when concentrating on something else. / Mild nausea, mild headache, crave comfort food." Two years along, 5/10 meant "Interferes with concentration. Short-term memory problems. Hard to retain new info. / Mild nausea. Grip unreliable. Hyperesthesia pronounced; breeze feels like hot iron. Color changes noticeable."

Those are two completely different statements — but the number is the same! The value of each number on the 1-10 scale is essentially nil unless it has a description of what that number means at that point in time.

The usual justification for using the 1-10 scale is that it provides a point of comparison, letting clinicians know if the medication given has helped, and if so, how much. This is of tightly limited use, because it addresses pain alone without addressing function, and there is no pain medication on the market that does not have the potential to affect function. Even medicating pain effectively can leave the patient with function impaired, and that’s rarely well-addressed.

The CRPS Grading Scale

This case has evolved considerably in the past year. The other scales measure the wrong things now. Asking me about my pain level is bogus. It would have the asker in a fetal position, mindless; is that a 7 or a 10? Does it matter?

I need to avoid thinking about depressing things like my pain and my disability, because I must function as well as possible, every minute of every day. I focus relentlessly on coping with these issues and squeeezing as much of life into the cracks as possible — on functioning beyond or in spite of these limitations.

The fourth rating scale is much simpler than its predecessors. It’s based, not on level of pain or disability, but on the degree to which I can compensate for the disability and cope, think, and interact in spite of it. Therefore, this rating scale remains meaningful, because it describes my functional experience of life.

There is no Grade F. Did you notice that? As long as I have a pulse, there is no F. This is rightly called “the suicide disease”, so the meaning of F is obvious.

In the words of the unquenchable Barrie Rosen,
“Suicide is failure. Everything else is just tactics.”

 

So what’s the point of all this?

Documenting patient experience in terms that are meaningful and appropriate advances the science.

The treatment for this disease is stuck in the last century in many ways, but that’s partly because it’s so hard to make sense of it. The better we track real experience with it, the better we can make sense of it.

?
Since studies, and the funding for them, come from those who don’t have the disease, this is the least — and yet most important — thing that patients and clinicians can do to improve the situation for ourselves and those who come after us.
?

This isn’t a bad snapshot of the natural history of my case, either. Understanding the natural history of a disease is a key element of understanding the disease.

Imagine if all CRPS patients kept meaningful, evolving pain rating scales, and pooled them over the years. What a bitingly clear picture would emerge!

Important legal note: These forms are available free and without practical usage limitations; to use, alter, and distribute; by individuals and institutions; as long as you provide free access to them and don’t try to claim the IP yourself or prevent others from using it. All my material is protected under the Creative Commons license indicated at the foot of the page, but for these pain scales, I’m saying that you don’t have to credit me — if you need them, just use them.

Bien approveche: may it do you good.

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New type of nerve cell in brain. POTSers, take note… and hope

This article discusses the discovery of a new type of neuron in the hypothalamus. 

A new type of nerve cell found in the brain

This specific type of nerve cell handles cardiovascular functions, playing some sort of role in regulating heart rate and blood pressure. The cardiovascular system being the interlocked system  that it is, this presumably also includes force of heart contractions, tension of the vessels, and other autonomically-driven activities.

The autonomic part of the nervous system is supposed to be the ring-master for the automatic functions of life, everything that has an up and a down: blood pressure, heart rate, sleeping/waking, appetite and thirst, and so on. Its dysregulation in CRPS is probably one of the most stubborn problems in treating and managing this disease. Finding a type of nerve that so explicitly  handles one part of that extraordinarily complex set of inter-relating functions is fascinating enough, but the ramifications are tremendous.

Here they discuss it in terms of its relationship to the thyroid, an endocrine organ that’s an important part of those regulatory mechanisms, on the chemical-messenger side. The thyroid drives the creation and balance of these types of nerves; these types of nerves then influence the output of the thyroid. It’s a metabolic two-step, a mutual relationship characteristic of nearly every chemical/physical connection in the human body.

Those who have POTS and other forms of autonomically-driven cardiovascular problems might have a new cause for hope. Being able to separate out that particular set of mechanisms from the rest of the nervous system, at least to some degree, may give them a chance of managing their disease better without throwing the rest of their autonomic functions further off.

Anyone who has been that nauseously dizzy and that weak for that long would be terribly glad of the chance. This is great science, and not just for those with thyroid disorders.

Links:
“A new type of nerve cell found in the brain”
Eurekalert press release on these findings
Wikipedia on CRPS
What is dysautonomia? – with a focus on cardiovascular issues
CRPS, ANS dysfunction, and chronic vertigo

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Pain is a pity, but really …

I got a remarkably thoughtless comment from someone on the physician-driven site, crpsnews.org:
“Everyday is certainly a struggle for people with CRPS because they live in pain 24/7. While there is no cure for the disease, it can be slowed and likely to go into remission if treated early, ideally within three months of the first symptoms.”

This remark was so fatuous and misguided that I found it alienating, but it raised several important issues that do come up — especially in regard to people who mean well but don’t know much about it (regardless of their educational level.)

Here are the main points of that remark:

1. Pain is why people with CRPS are to be pitied.
2. It’s incurable, so don’t go there.
3. It can be slowed or pushed into remission…
4. If you catch it really early.

Those of you who’ve followed me, know what’s going through my head right now… “Where do I even start?”

Not with # 1. We’ll have to come back to # 1. Let’s go in reverse order.

4. “Diagnose it early, ideally within 3 months of first symptoms.” Physicians control diagnosis; patients can only control how they respond to it. Since most cases of CRPS aren’t even diagnosed for YEARS, that’s not a useful remark. Say it at every medical workshop you go to; leave it out of a patient-driven site, because it’s a slap in the face.

3. The remark on remission is slighly confusing.  Remission in CRPS is not like remission in cancer. It’s a fragile state which can revert at any moment over the slightest thing. It’s nothing like a cure. Remission is still possible years on, as the anecdotal evidence indicates.

2. A cure, as they pointed out, doesn’t exist — yet. And, with the wrong clinical focus and a hopeless clinical attitude towards a cure, it’s no bloody wonder.

It can be cheaply prevented in ~80% of cases by 500 mg vitamin C, 3 times daily, for 2 weeks before and 3 months after surgery (or 3 months post-injury.) That’s much more realistic than CRPS getting diagnosed within months, but so few people know about it that it doesn’t happen much.

Result: lots of needless CRPS.

Spread the word about 500 mg vitamin C. It could save lives.

Most people who don’t have CRPS focus on the pain as the reason for sympathy. Everybody has had pain, and the idea of pain is what they think they can identify with…
The pain of CRPS is like nothing else I ever experienced before. Yet I was an emergency nurse, motorcyclist, weightlifter, runner, horse rider, gymnast, martial artist… and a statistic, having endured more than one attempt on my life. (I’ve had an eventful life.) Plenty of opportunities to hurt; always recovered fast.

Yet, despite the often show-stopping pain I now live with, PAIN IS THE LEAST OF MY PROBLEMS. It’s the weakness, autonomia, and cognitive decline that are the real problems.

That’s where the research needs to be.

That’s where the help is needed.

That, honestly, is where the most empathetic and useful sympathy lies :-)

Imagine feeling your ability to think, learn and remember simply dissolving, and there is nothing at all that you can do about it. You can hope it will come back to some degree, and eventually it does (if you avoid everything you’re now sensitive or allergic to, eat tons of antioxidants and greens, drink lots of water, and don’t screw up anything about your life at all — while you can’t remember what just happened, let alone all that you have to do…) but you know there are no guarantees, and after awhile, the repeated gapping starts to add up.

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For a brain, that sucks, eh?

Doesn’t that seem a bit more distressing than physical pain? I think so. It certainly has more of an effect on what I can do with my life.

Pain can be pushed through; the weakness, autonomia and cognitive decline are virtually impossible to push through.

Why is that? Because I need my muscles to be able to recover in order to rebuild melting muscles, my autonomic nervous system (ANS) needs to work well enough to let me regain control of my ANS, and I need my brain to work out how to help my brain.

It’s like opening a box with the crowbar inside.

Relentless attention to activity, food and supplements, and state of mind are mandatory for a bearable life — not because of the pain, but because of the weakness, autonomia and gradual brain-death. In order to barely stand my ground, I have to dance as fast as I can.

That’s very hard for most people to wrap their heads around. It seems too hard. But to those of us with chronic CRPS, it’s just another day. We have to manage all that and still somehow keep food in the house, laundry done, bills paid… relationships intact.

This focus on pain, to the exclusion of the more thoroughly disabling issues, has led to a serious misapplication of resources. A lot of lives have been damaged or destroyed because of that willful blindness in the medical and treatment domains. So it frustrates me, especially as a passing remark dispensed from a physician-driven site. (I wonder where their funding comes from… )

Sympathy is a lovely instinct, it really is, and I sure don’t want to discourage it. Though I don’t see sympathy in the remark I quoted above, I have heard people without CRPS express genuine sympathy in nearly identical terms. And they really do mean well. That matters!

There’s a lot to be said for being sympathetic to someone’s actual problems, which may not be exactly what you might expect. This would lead to more understanding, better connections to those who have it, more effective help, and in the end, to more effective care.

This morning, I woke up from a dream where I was running an international conference on CRPS, where 3/4 of the presentations were given by non-physicians: expert patients, massage therapists, PTs, acupuncturists — you know, the people who really know about CRPS, and the stuff that really works for the real problems it causes.

In this dream, doctors could get a lot of CEUs, but they had to spend 60% of their time in non-physician workshops to get them. (How did I come up with 60%?) There was, how shall I put it, a certain amount of fussing about that…

It was a weird dream. Who knows, though, it could happen… It might do people like that staffer at crpsnews.org a world of good.

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CRPS, ANS dysfunction, and chronic vertigo

The central nervous system is bathed in fluid. This fluid provides a buffer against shock, as well as providing a good medium for the transmission of chemical signals. (Electrical signals are handled by the neurons.) The central nervous system is extremely sensitive to dehydration, which is why headaches are so common: most people are somewhat dehydrated. We consider ourselves too busy to drink water and whizz it out again.

Water is also the main ingredient of blood and lymph. These two essential fluids bring nutrition to the cells, transport chemical signals such as hormones and regulatory signals, and carry away cellular garbage. When there’s not enough of them, that doesn’t happen very well. More garbage piles up in the tissues, aging happens faster, disease trends faster, our muscles get stiffer, it’s harder to recuperate from injuries and illnesses, our sex lives suffer, and we just don’t feel as good.

With that in mind, not having the time to drink in water, process it through, and whizz it out again doesn’t really make sense, but a lot of us are really attached to that idea.

Reality checks

One of the really ducky things about diseases like CRPS, especially when there is strong autonomic involvement, is that normal quantities of fluids (and vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients) are often inadequate to our unusual metabolic needs. It may be possible for a basically healthy person to meet all their needs with three good meals and three or four liters of water per day, but for systems so consistently under siege as those with CRPS, it may be impossible to meet metabolic needs within these (otherwise very reasonable) parameters.

I have several friends with terrible vertigo, due to autonomic dysfunction in CRPS. This isn’t the, “I held my breath too long,” kind of dizziness. This is the kind of dizziness where you can’t keep your feet under you, you feel like you’re going to throw up, and it JUST WON’T QUIT.

The mechanism behind this has only been researched recently. It’s not very well understood. I’m hoping for an informative comment from an expert on this…

What’s happening (partly) is that the vessels, which are directed by the autonomic nervous system, are flopping open too much. This means that the normal amount of fluid in the blood, lymph, and cerebrospinal fluid has to fill a space that’s considerably larger than normal. What you get is a type of hypovolemic shock, where the brain and major organs simply can’t get enough nutrition, oxygen, and garbage collection.

This normally happens on a short-term basis, after some assault on the system; normally, it’s either corrected quickly, or the person dies.

There are very few instances where this happens continuously over time, but with CRPS, some people have to live with it. It can make doing anything impossible, and if you try to imagine, just for 5 minutes, what it’s like to be that desperately dizzy and try to do anything — even get a fork to your mouth without bloodshed — you’ll see what I mean.

Sometimes, these symptoms can be somewhat reduced. There are pharmaceutical and mechanical approaches, each with its drawbacks and benefits. Since doctors (and many patients) tend to think in terms of pharmaceuticals first, let’s start there.

Pharmaceutical management

Whenever you think in terms of disease and pharmaceuticals, it’s important to keep in mind that:

  • Every system is unique.
  • Every system with CRPS is even stranger.
  • Unless you’re a doctor getting a visit from a pharmaceutical rep, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Everything you take in affects your whole system. With our systems under siege, it behooves us to be mindful of our chemistry.

NB: This is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Consult your physician with any questions, and if your doctor can’t give you a credible answer, get a referral to someone who might be able to.

Vasopressors, which can help restrict blood vessel size, have mixed results. They depend on the regulatory system being able to work somewhat, which is problematic in CRPS. Moreover, they have their own side effects, and given what a cocktail of medications most people with CRPS are on anyway, this can be quite noticeable. It has to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Anti-dizziness pills, such as Atarax, affect the central nervous system and tend to make people sleepy and goofy. They are related to antihistamines and acid-suppressing medications (H2 inhibitors), and for those with hotwired immune systems and the nutrient assimilation problems common in chronic CRPS, they’re not without side effects. Moreover, because they address only the generic mechanism for dizziness, but not the particular mechanism for CRPS/ANS vertigo, they don’t necessarily help in these cases. Also, case-by-case basis.

Some SSRIs, typically used as antidepressants but extremely effective for nerve pain, can also provide support for the ANS. There is additional benefit to the use of SSRIs, because of their assistance with the nerve pain component of CRPS; when they can also improve the autonomic nervous system, it’s a big deal. Naturally, SSRIs being the idiosyncratic category that they are, it can take a few tries to find the one that works best in each person’s system. As I learned the hard way, getting the dose right can be a long and interesting task, given the idiosyncratic nature of our systems.

Mechanical management

Mechanically, it’s possible to increase blood volume by taking in lots of fluids, even if you already drink “enough.” “Enough” is a relative term, and what’s “enough” for a person with a normal autonomic nervous system may be “completely inadequate” for somebody with vertigo due to CRPS.

Blood pressure is a complex system, involving more than just fluid, vessels and the brain. Maintaining electrolytes helps contribute to a healthier fluid balance, and towards that end, sometimes doctors suggest increasing your salt intake. That only raises your blood pressure when you already have a predisposition to high blood pressure, so it may not be obviously useful; however, adequate sodium is important in maintaining renal function and supporting potassium levels.

Potassium is another key electrolyte, along with magnesium (found in Epsom salt), calcium, and bicarbonate. It doesn’t take much; four or five of the smallest grains of Epsom salt, stirred into a glass of water, can make a noticeable difference when you are magnesium depleted. Also, it usually makes the water taste better.

It’s easy to tell when you’ve taken too much, partly because it doesn’t taste good, but especially when it gives you the runs. Less is generally better than more!

Bicarbonate is better managed by eating plenty of vegetables, rather than trying to supplement and get the dose just right. Having an overly alkaline system doesn’t feel very good, either.

Calcium and magnesium are present in food, especially if you’re eating plenty of nuts and leafy greens. If you have CRPS, you really want to eat plenty of nuts and leafy greens! They provide so much in the way of A and B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals (which support cellular processes and regulation), healthy fats (which help your body absorb your nutrients and protect your nerves), fiber, digestible protein (which helps your body absorb the calcium), and so much else of what your body really needs.

Activity, even horizontal activity, even just stretching out gently in bed, provides the body with much needed prompting about how to keep things moving. It keeps your muscles loose, so that your body is more comfortable to live in; it also activates sensors in your joints which communicate with your body’s regulatory mechanisms, and this helps with maintaining blood pressure (one can only hope it helps enough.)

Any movement is better than no movement.

Changes in position should happen slowly, which is terribly frustrating, but it’s going to take as long as it takes. If your body doesn’t get to move, it forgets how to handle itself in movement. This becomes a negative feedback loop.

So, keep moving, even if you’re not moving in any way that the doctor would recognize. Frankly, most doctors are somewhat limited in their ideas of what constitutes exercise. Most of them have no trouble walking from the car to the office, let alone from the bedroom to the kitchen.

Don’t let perfection assassinate your drive towards improvement. Do what you can, and don’t sweat the rest.

  • If you can’t run around the park, walk around the block;
  • If you can’t walk around the block, practice ballet or t’ai chi with one hand on the back of the sofa;
  • If you can’t do that, fire up YouTube and do chair qi gong or chair yoga;
  • If you can’t do that, stretch out gently in bed, and do range of motion exercises. (This is a wonderfully pretentious term for moving each limb all the way up, then all the way down; all the way in, then all the way out.)

There is always something you can do to keep your joints active.

Moving your joints sends a message to your regulatory centers that they need to pay a little more attention to your blood pressure. That’s why it’s important to stay active. Our regulatory systems are screwed up enough; we need to keep them gently tuned, and be persistent about it, even when it seems absurd to do so. The habit of activity will serve you well for the rest of your life.

I’m aware that there are some herbs that have tonic effects on blood pressure and possibly the ANS. I would love to learn more about that.

Assume there is a future, and that what you do, even little things, can change how it goes.

That’s a good general policy, anyway. Especially with CRPS.

While I’ve known all this for many years, applying it to CRPS has been an education. When I’m able to focus a little longer, I’ll put together some references. Meanwhile, any of you who have references, either to support or contradict any of this, would be very welcome to post them in the comments.

I look forward to better science and better medicine for chronic vertigo in CRPS. It’s so thoroughly disabling, yet so thoroughly underrated.

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CRPS, HPA axis, and a remarkable void in the science

I just went looking for scholarly articles linking chronic CRPS to the HPA axis damage that has been such a feature of my life. Though me, my cohorts and all my providers have been talking freely about this for years, there was nothing on PubMed and nothing of value in the Google search.

It’s possible to chain together articles that make the point — one on stress and adrenal function, one on stress and pituitary dysregulation, one on chronic neurogenic pain and hypothalamic oddness, one on constant pain as a causor of physiologic stress, and one on CRPS as a source of pain — but academics get squirrelly when you make them link the logic. They don’t want to think; it makes them feel exposed.

Nevertheless, me and my providers, me and my cohorts online, me and hundreds and thousands of people with chronic CRPS, have been taking it for granted all this time that there was a link — because it is so bloody obvious that there is.

However, the studies don’t exist.

The connection is obvious, but unwritten.

The data are sitting there, waiting to be captured.

The study subjects are right there for the recruiting.

It’s like the topic is standing there with its pants down and its pockets full. An easy target — and a rich one!

This is ridiculously obvious, and you know that all the subsequent work on CRPS and anything related to the adrenals, hypothalamus and pituitary would have to quote whoever documented it. Tenure, much?

Who wants to find the funding and put together a team? I would be happy to help. If I had the MD and the university contacts, I’d already be making calls. Please, whatever I can do to help, just let me know. Make it happen.

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Scott Reuben and the poison in medicine’s well

In a stunning piece of timing after yesterday’s epiphany, this crossed my wire today:

“A Medical Madoff: Anesthesiologist Faked Data in 21 Studies” – Scientific American
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=a-medical-madoff-anesthestesiologist-faked-data

“Beginning in 2000, Reuben, in his now-discredited research, attempted to convince orthopedic surgeons to shift from the first generation of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to the newer, proprietary COX2 inhibitors, such as Vioxx, Celebrex, and Pfizer’s Bextra (valdecoxib). He claimed that using such drugs in combination with the Pfizer anticonvulsant Neurontin (gabapentin), and later Lyrica (pregabalin), prior to and during surgery could be effective in decreasing postoperative pain and reduce the use of addictive painkillers, such as morphine, during recovery. A 2007 editorial in Anesthesia & Analgesia stated that Reuben had been at the “forefront of redesigning pain management protocols” through his “carefully planned” and “meticulously documented” studies.”

More from the New York Times:
“Doctor’s Pain Studies Were Fabricated, Hospital Says”
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/11/health/research/11pain.html

And the Injury Board:
“The Fake Clinical Trials of Dr. Scott Reuben” http://cherryhill.injuryboard.com/fda-and-prescription-drugs/the-fake-clinical-trials-of-dr-scott-reuben.aspx?googleid=259290

It’s hard to convey the total horror of the event described here. This physician scientist, who ran the pain clinic at one of my old hospitals, published research that became the cornerstone of pain treatment in the US and abroad. After 13 years of successful, peer-review-published, desperately important work, he recently admitted the following:

• Not one single patient was ever enrolled in key studies.
• There was absolutely no basis for the numbers he cited; he invented them.
• He was paid a great deal of money to come up with certain results, and that is exactly what he did.

The most influential part of his career was a fraud.

The countless studies founded on his widely-publicized fictions are therefore meaningless, under the rules of scientific evidence itself.

The degree to which we depend on medical science to save us when we really need it — our helplessness at our times of greatest need — require us to have some faith in the processes that deliver our care. This isn’t just another massive fraud, it’s a devastating blow to the cornerstone of healing in the modern age. How can educated patients ever continue to believe that our doctors have anything of value to offer us? How can honest physicians bear to let this situation exist?

He could not have chosen a worse field to work in. In medicine, sooner or later, every field has to rely on pain medicine, and he has fouled the well from which the widest number of patients must drink. Scientific American got it wrong: Madoff was a piker, next to this.

The science of pain control and pain management has depended heavily on garbage cooked by a liar, served by intellectual catamites and eaten by the brainwashed. From there, it was inserted into me and mine, who were assured that this was the best that medical science had to offer.

Too bad there was no actual medical science involved.

…I apologize for the strong language. Can you think of more precise and telling terms to use instead? I’d be happy to change them, if anyone can come up with something better.

There are administrative questions such as, whatever happened to peer-review? Who the hell was looking at his notebooks and other physical evidence of scientific work? Why did it take 13 years for a “routine check” at Baystate to break his cover? What on earth were the most important science editors in the world thinking? How many of them are still employed — and why?

Those aren’t trivial, but they are not what looms largest in my mind. I think of Debbie, and me these past few years, and other friends I can’t name whose lives have been hopelessly distorted and sometimes horribly lost … because modern pain research has been built on one psychopath’s lies, which were funded and supported by a vast network of fellow liars, colluders, and the willfully blind.

It has sometimes occurred to me that the wrong people get sick.

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A. Coping gracefully (baseline)
Track to completion, baseline memory aids sufficient, comprehend primary science, think laterally, mood is managed, manner friendly, affect lively and engaged. Relatively good strength and stamina, able to grasp and carry reliably, knees and hips act normal, nausea absent to minimal, pulse mostly regular.
B. Coping roughly
Completion unrealistic, extra memory aids required and still don’t do it all, comprehend simple directions (to 3-4 steps), think simply with self-care as central concern, unstable mood, manner from prim to edgy to irritable. Moderate strength and stamina, grip unreliable and muscles weaker, balance goes in and out, knees and hips unreliable, nausea and blood sugar instability alter type and frequency of intake, occasional multifocal PVCs (wrong heartbeats) and mild chest discomfort.
C. Barely coping
Hear constant screaming in my head, see white haze over everything, likely to forget what was just said, focus on getting through each moment until level improves, manner from absorbed to flat to strange, will snap if pushed. Muscle-flops, poor fine and gross motor coordination, major joints react stiffly and awkwardly, restless because it’s hard to get comfortable, unstable blood sugar requires eating q2h, bouts of irregularly irregular heartbeat.
D. Nonfuntional
Unable to process interactions with others, suicidal ideation. Unable either to rest or be active. No position is bearable for long.