My Health Journey: Part 2 -Then the Joint Pain

Hello!! It’s been awhile. This past fall was rough health-wise for me but now I’m back at it and thought it was time for another post. So here is picking up after my Part 1 story …

During that same summer (2006) of the colonoscopy I started to get random joint pain. This wasn’t just a little mild pain. This was severe debilitating pain. The first joint I had flare up was my right wrist. I had spent the day before this flare working in my yard mowing grass, trimming trees and bushes around the yard and in my landscaping. Nothing too difficult to handle considering I was a young 24 year old. I woke up the next day and I couldn’t bend my wrist. I seriously thought I must have broken my wrist. I didn’t know how… The only thought I had was that a couple weeks before that I had tried to see if I could still do a round off back handspring (Ha!). I thought maybe I did something to my wrist then and all of the work I did the day before just pushed it over the edge. I had no idea how my wrist could be hurting so bad, so suddenly. I called my mom in tears because it felt like the pain was getting worse and worse as the day was going on. It was almost as if I my wrist was in a Chinese finger trap and it was being pulled from both sides. My wrist was starting to swell really bad and I could not move it without feeling excruciating pain. My mom spent most of her career working at the University of Cincinnati Barrett Cancer Center. She used her connections to get me into a hand specialist that day. We went in together and after an x-ray the doctor said it just looked like severe tendinitis. What? How did one day of yard work cause “severe tendinitis”? Who knows, but he said there were no broken bones and put me in a wrist brace and told me to wear it for a few weeks and that was that.

As the summer went on I started to have other joints that would randomly swell up and hurt so bad I couldn’t move them. One morning I woke up and my left ankle was swollen like I had sprained it only I didn’t do anything at all to it. Nothing. I went to bed and then woke up the next morning with swelling and a lot of pain. As I started to learn and understand a little more about the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases I learned that joint pain can be a complication of the disease. As I was checking in with my GI doctor he did confirm that my joint pain could be associated with my intestinal inflammation. When the joint pain became more chronic he recommended that I started seeing a rheumatologist. Great, this whole taking care of my health is now starting to involve more and more doctors.


I started again with my GP who then referred me onto a rheumatologist. Of course he ran a bunch of blood work thinking that he was going to diagnose me with Rheumatoid Arthritis. There are normally a few tests that they look for with RA and a couple came back positive but others were negative. Again, I had some symptoms but the diagnosis was unclear. He ended up just diagnosing me with general arthritis but that didn’t feel right because I felt like it was some how related to the GI issues I was having. This was the beginning of a trend for me. Doctors telling me things like…
“Typically we see patients showing these signs but you’re not showing all of them … we’re not quite sure what’s going on with you but we’re going to treat you as if you have the disease” Great, thanks!

So, I left the rheumatologist’s office with a prescription for Sulfasalazine. It’s a really old medication used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. So it was going to cover all of my bases. Once I stopped the enemas it would help keep the intestinal inflammation under control.

I was on the sulfasalazine for almost 10 years. I would switch to prednisone, an anti-inflammatory steroid, when I was pregnant or breast feeding. I have two beautiful girls, so that was twice I had to switch over. I didn’t love being on medications when I was pregnant but my joints were still giving me problems. I would have been miserable if I wasn’t taking anything for the inflammation. The medication kept my bowels under control. I really never had any more issues with them. I did have some issues when I was pregnant, especially with the second one, but I think that was more pregnancy related than anything else.

What now?

After I had my second daughter and went back to taking the sulfasalazine it just didn’t seem to work as well. I hated being on the medication anyway but especially hated hearing the doctor tell me that I was going to have to take something to keep my joints under control for the rest of my life. What was the point in taking this medication if it wasn’t really working? For the most part the medication kept things under control. I would have the random flare up when one joint would get really swollen and painful and then with in a couple days it was back down to normal. On those days my doctor would tell me to take some prednisone on top of my sulfasalazine to help with the swelling and pain. There were a few times it would get so bad I would have to go in and get a cortisone injection into the joint. That would normally be my knees. I couldn’t walk! So something needed to be done. Rather than up my dose for one joint flaring up, he would just inject it. My doctor helped me along for quite a few years and then at one of my last appointments with him he finally told me it was time to move on to a stronger medication. The sulfasalazine had run it’s course and was no longer working. He was worried about doing permanent damage to my joints if we didn’t get the inflammation under control. His next recommendation was Methotrexate. My first thought was “Oh Hell, no!” It is considered a chemotherapeutic drug. It can kill cancer cells, it suppresses your immune system and thereby control your rheumatoid arthritis. Ugh, so not what I wanted to hear.

I left that appointment in 2013 so incredibly frustrated. “How could I be getting worse?” “Why isn’t the medication working?” “How can it make since to keep moving on to a stronger medication?” “When would it stop?” I refused to go on the Methotrexate and would continue to limp, literally, along taking the sulfasalzine.

If I knew then what I know now

If you look back on my health history I had destroyed my gut. I consider my gut my small and large intestines. I know it technically includes more than that but that’s what I am referring to when I us the term “gut”. Let’s be real, my gut was never healthy considering I had constipation issues starting early in my life.

What do I consider a healthy gut? A gut with a good balance of bacteria and microbes, called your gut flora or microbiota.

… these microbes help with our digestion. But evidence has been growing that gut microbes may influence our health in other ways too. Studies suggest that they may play roles in obesity, type 2 diabetes, IBS, and colon cancer. They might also affect how the immune system functions. This can affect how your body fights illness and disease. Recent studies have found that microbes’ effects on the immune system may impact the development of conditions such as allergy, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.

I was probably born with an unhealthy gut. Did you know that a baby is born with little to no gut flora? The baby is exposed to the gut flora of the mother through a vaginal birth, through breast milk and the environment. It then rapidly colonizes in the baby’s gut. If the baby was born by C-section or fed formula, the flora isn’t developed as quickly or could be lacking in beneficial bacteria. The state of the mother’s gut is what is passed onto the baby. So what if my mom’s gut wasn’t in tip-top shape? What if her mom’s gut wasn’t healthy and she started off with an unhealthy gut?

So let’s say I started off with a gut lacking in beneficial bacteria and microbes and then every time I had an ear infection, strep throat… ACNE for 2 years!!… and was on antibiotics I killed off more and more beneficial bacteria. I never once tried to replenish my gut bacteria. Different foods like vegetables, fruits, fermented foods, can naturally rebuild your gut but let’s be honest, I wasn’t taking in adequate amounts that would rebuild my gut to where it needed to be.

Then, let’s move on to adulthood when I started taking the sulfasalzine and prednisone (steroid), getting cortisone injections… I continued to damage my gut without working on fixing the damage.

If I knew then how much damage I was doing to my gut I would have worked on repairing it. Just even by simply supplementing with probiotics. I would have started eating foods that would help heal the lining of my gut. It was inflamed and needed some attention. I could have taken vitamins, herbal supplements to work on healing the lining. All of which I have spent the past 6 years working on and can say I haven’t taken a medication for my arthritis or gut issues for years. If I have times where my gut isn’t quite right, I have herbal supplements that I take that will get it back in check.

I could go on and on about the importance of a healthy gut. It is tied in to numerous systems of the body

Numerous studies in the past two decades have demonstrated links between gut health and the immune system, mood, mental health, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, and cancer.

Also, one of the biggest things I have learned through my cancer journey is that unprocessed emotions and trauma can manifest as physical symptoms and diseases. There are many books linking the two together. One of the first books on the topic I’ve read is called Feelings Buried Alive Never Die. What I’ve realized now, as crazy as it seems, is that when a joint randomly flares up, there is an emotional connection.

So yeah, if I knew then what I know now I would have taken much better care of my gut. If I had done that earlier, who knows what the state of my health would be now. But, I believe all of our experiences are part of God’s plan for us. So I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned and know all is how it was meant to be.

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