Monday, May 20, 2013

Treatments for Lupus: Prednisone

When I was diagnosed with lupus by a mainstream doctor, and then sent to a specialist (rheumatologist), I was given two choices: take prednisone or get cussed out. I didn't know about the cussing out option until I went for my second appointment and hadn't taken the prednisone. The thing is, I had read about all the side effects of prednisone and to me it sounded worse than lupus.

But here's what I eventually learned (the hard way): if you have systemic lupus erythematosus (a.k.a. SLE, lupus, lupus SLE, systemic lupus, or lupus erythematosus, or even the misspelling "lupis")....where was I? Oh yes, if you have lupus, it's not going to just go away by itself if you just wait it out, like a bad cold or bronchitis. I tried that. I got very very sick, down to 80 pounds. Lost most of my hair, kidneys failing, too weak to get out of a chair, constant pain. I would have died if I hadn't finally decided to get on some medication.

The first thing I did after being diagnosed was go to the library (this was 1993, pre-internet) and look up "lupus" in the encyclopedia. It said that people who were diagnosed with lupus usually died within 5 years of being diagnosed. This was very old information, because it was obviously written before they found out they could control lupus with drugs. I did not know it was old information at the time.

The next year I met a woman who was one of the first people to be given prednisone for lupus. They didn't know what dose to give her, so they started with 250mg. That is not a typo. Seriously. Can you imagine? I go bonkers on 40 mg. She found herself at a dinner party one night and before she realized what she was doing, she pulled the salad serving bowl in front of her and started eating out of it with her hands.

I did eventually go on prednisone. The pattern has been this: I take prednisone for about 9-10 months. And then I've been able to wean off it. Then 4-8 years later, the lupus goes bonkers again and I go back on the prednisone. Repeat.

Now when websites and doctors talk about lupus, they say it goes in cycles of "flares," rather than saying you'll be dead in 5 years. I attribute this change to the use of medications to quiet the disease. And I attribute the cycle of flares to the coming off the drugs and going back on them. Which is why some doctors try to keep patients on a "maintenance" dose of prednisone (or some other drug), in order to prevent future flares.

I rely on prednisone and it works for me but I hate the side effects and it's dangerous to be on it long-term. So I have searched high and low, near and far for other more natural options to build up my health and quiet the disease.

I've done acupuncture, chi gung, bodytalk (energy medicine), chelation therapy, chiropractic, lymphatic massage, regular massage, physical therapy, movement therapy, talk therapy, life coaches, psychiatry, got all my metal dental fillings removed and replaced, became self-employed and pursued my dreams (yes happiness affects your health), cut toxic people from my life, and changed my diet.

Out of everything I tried, the diet change (cutting out gluten, dairy, nutrasweet and MSG) and chi gung actually made all my lab tests straighten out, and I got the first negative ANA test I've ever had since 1993. And they basically cost nothing.

My last lupus flare was in 2006. I went on 5-6 drugs (including prednisone). I was able to wean off most of them within a year, except for the blood pressure drug, which I finally weaned off of just this past month. I feel like I'm in pretty good control of my heath now, because for me the diet makes such a huge difference. I have several big motivators to stay on that diet: not wanting to suffer from lupus, not wanting to suffer from prednisone, and not wanting to limited in what I can do physically.

I don't really care if a doctor cusses me out. That's not a motivator for me. In fact, it makes me that much less likely to "comply."

But now, because I have experienced the consequences of taking and not taking any medication while lupus is chewing up my organs, I am rather open to the idea of pharmaceutical intervention. If I ever have another lupus flare, yes, I will take prednisone (and ask people not to take my picture while I have a moon face). It's cheap, it works for me, and it has saved my life 3 times.

Prednisone was the first effective treatment for systemic lupus. Before that there was no hope. Just start planning your funeral. So, although it makes me batty, and it tastes like Ajax (I've accidentlaly bitten a pill more than once), I'm grateful for this drug. There are other medications out there for lupus now, as well as effective non-drug treatments, and I will talk about them in another post.

Meanwhile, here's a song I wrote about my love/hate relationship with prednisone.

From the CD

Carla Ulbrich

The Singing Patient: Author, Health Speaker, Humorous Songwriter and Entertainer - more videos