Monday, January 25, 2010

Ups and Downs on the Steroid Rollercoaster

Today I had my second session with my new ‘wonder worker’ GP. I reported how I’m dropping the steroid dose (1 mg every 2 days) and how much better I've been feeling. In particular, that my brain is a lot clearer, and my energy levels higher, though neither of them as good as they were before November 11 (ITP day).

While she was delighted with my progress, the good dr brought me back down to earth, warning me that the last few milligrams - in particular the last milligram - of prednisone is the hardest to wean the body off, and it might take some days of taking halves or even quarters of that last 1 mg tablet.

As she pointed out, when I did the steep drop from 20 mg to 15mg, I was reducing the dose by 25%. Last week I went from 13 mg to 12 mg (7%), and this week from 8mg to 7mg (12.5%). Next week I’ll be going down to 4mg, with the drop from 5 to 4 being a whole 20%.

But when it comes down from 2 mg to 1mg, that’s a BIG drop of 50%. She warned me I might have some really nasty experiences dealing with such a proportionately steep drop - even the possibility of depression again – as well as palpitations etc.

But hey, that’s two weeks, and two blood tests away!

Oh, What a Tangled Web…

No, I haven’t been deceitful – I’m referring to the immensely complex and convoluted physiological web that is the human body, especially when you add in various pharmaceuticals.

One of the unexpected side-effects of all this intervention has been the sudden oedema (swelling) of my legs. In particular the left leg, which swells up gradually during the day & never fully subsides during sleep. It becomes very tight and shiny and quite hot, & I cannot put the fat foot in any shoes other than my loose plastic clogs, or my very old gym shoes, just barely laced together.

This is partly a response to my too enthusiastic adoption of salt tablets to correct my sodium imbalance (even though I’m taking less than the minimum three the label suggest), combined with my own (unadvised) halving of my daily dose of Karvea, to reduce the enormous volume of pee each night. Wrong, wrong, wrong!! Apparently I need to keep peeing vast cataracts every night, to drain out all the fluid I’m storing in my face and now my legs.

Joint Pains, but Not from the Steroids

As part of this week’s general discomfort, along with the return of nightly leg cramps (though not as severe as before), I’ve also been experiencing pain in all my arthritic joints. And in my neck, shoulders and ribs. For these, I can blame the steroids, but only indirectly.

The problem is I’m cattywampus, and my joints are all complaining. ‘Cattywumpus’ is a lovely word I’ve learned from my daughter’s American friends. It means askew, off beam, ain't quite right, what I’d call ‘skew whiff’.

Normally I’d be having a massage about every 6 weeks, and seeing my osteopath every 3 or 4 months for an adjustment, as well as doing all my appropriate exercises. But a lack of income, combined with one of the few positives of steroid treatment – masking of joint pain – meant I’d ignored my skeletal needs. Now the steroid dose has dropped low enough for my complaining joints to get my attention.

Did Someone Mention Vitamin D?

When my other GP told me some weeks ago that I was low in Vitamin D, I did the right thing. I gave away my sunscreen to a friend whose pale skin burns at the mere thought of sunshine, and bought a calcium supplement fortified with Vitamin D.

Of course, once I started on the magnesium supplement to counteract the leg cramps, I had to stop the calcium, as the two chemicals compete with one another for the same sites on the cell membranes, so it’s best not to take them at the same time. Being concerned about my thin bones, I questioned Dr ND today about calcium and Vitamin D and how I was to protect myself from osteoporosis.

There followed a convoluted biochemical lecture on the types of Vitamin D in the body – stored and activated – which I confess I didn’t follow completely, and will need to read the literature on, before I get my head around it, let alone explain it to anyone else.

As far as I can gather, I have too much of the activated type, and I don’t need to be trying to store any more of the other one (from supplements and/or sunshine). While the thin bones are a concern, it seem we have to put then to one side until we have completed the arduous task of weaning me off the prednisone, and getting the steroid residue out of my system.

Looking On The Bright Side

Yes, there are bright spots from today’s visit. I’m doing better than expected in dropping the dose down without too many problems. I do have more energy and brain power, even if my strength and endurance are still way below what I’d like.

And best of all, despite the swollen legs and feet, and still swollen face, my belly fat is going down!! Today I was able to squeeze into my wide-legged khaki-green linen pants – the same pants that last summer were too loose and needed a belt to stay up, and only a month ago would not go near me.

I may not be able to get my shoes on, but I can wear my favourite summer pants again. Yay!


  1. Well, it sounds better than when I last saw you! In any case, don't forget to put a pillow under your leg at night to elevate it. That should help the swelling to come down in the morning.

  2. Thanks, I'm doing that and the leg is coming down a bit, but my left foot in particular is still too swollen for any of my shoes.

  3. Always consult your doctor before evaluating steroids.

    Steroids Canada

  4. Thanks for the advice Alex. If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I see my doctor regularly, almost too frequently it seems at times like this when I see her every week after my blood test. We are monitoring my progress closely as we reduce the steroid dose, and again, as recently we've had to increase it again.