We need to stop Mepolizumab

Under a month ago I was writing about how I had been a year on mepolizumab. The drug that I thought was going to be my wonder drug and make my asthma easy to control or so I thought. You can read the post here.

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Part of me wonders did I know deep down that I would be stopping this treatment? I know in my last clinic I had asked my consultant if he thought I was benefiting from getting the drug. He outlined why he thought it was worth staying on it so we agreed I would stay on.

In just a few short weeks after that clinic and chat the words came out my consultants mouth that I didnt want to hear. He said “we are going to stop the mepolizumab treatment because I was not getting the results he wants and while on it I have had some of my most severe attacks”. He felt he could not justify me staying on it as I was still struggling so much and my attacks were getting worse again. He is also concerned about all the other issues I am having with my body which he cant say are due to the mepolizumab but equally he cant say they are not. He is worried about the unknown side effects from the drug due to it being so new.

To say I am gutted is an under statement. It was meant to be my wonder drug. It wasn’t as much as I try to convince myself it was working I cant be sure. It did reduce my eosinophil count which is the only result we can see conclusively that changed once starting it. Otherwise the things like recovering from attacks and bouncing back from colds quicker I cant say are due to the mepolizumab or if they are due to not working in the hospital. I cant say either way. I wish I could say it was due to the mepolizumab but I cant.

So what now??

This was the first question I asked my consultant as once again I feel like I am in a constant state of limbo, reliant on oral corticosteroids which have the be reduced but any reduction exacerbates my asthma again so I will be searching for that drug which can offer me stability. If only prednisolone did not have such awful side effects and you could stay on them with no worries- that would be magic!!

The good news is that there are new biologic treatments out there. There is Fasenra (benralizumab) which I doubt I will be eligible for. I am excited about the results people have been getting from Dupixent (dupilumab). In the UK dupixent is currently only allowed to be used in patients with skin conditions but over in the States there has been a lot of success for people with aspirin sensitive asthma. I hope that perhaps dupixent might be approved for use in asthma because I think the main issue which makes asthma control so hard to achieve is being anaphylactic to salicylic acid- a compound of aspirin which naturally occurs in just about everything.

Until then I just need to sit tight, do the best I can to keep my body as healthy as possible, minimising the risk of attacks and focus on getting better and have a positive mental attitude.

No-one is immune from a near fatal asthma attack.

Once again asthma has been in the press for all the wrong reasons. Despite the National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD) in 2014 it appears nothing has got much better. It was announced that asthma deaths in England and Wales (Scotland was not mentioned) are at their highest in over a decade. Over the years I have always asked why, why does asthma kill, why is asthma not well managed.

Well the other week I was reminded just how bad asthma can be and how it can never be under estimated. If asthma wants to win it will win despite all you do.

All the weather we have had recently has taken its toll on my asthma control. I tried so hard to ensure I was listening to my body, and make any changes that it required to ensure my lungs and asthma were stable. I found it very tricky to know what to do because unlike when you have a bad infection or cold you know roughly how long they will last and how much to step up medication to keep your asthma in check. This time it was different, it was the weather than was making life hard but it was not consistent. In the morning I was finding the weather was very muggy and humidity high making it feel like I was breathing through cotton wool but as the day went on the air cleared and I found it a lot easier to breath when the humidity dropped. It was like this for several days in a row and then perhaps there was a day where the humidity was ok. This made it a bit of a conundrum as to how to treat my breathing as I was not convinced an increase in steroids was going to help.

I reached out and spoke to my asthma nurse specialist at the hospital on the Monday. She gave me a plan which I followed however by Wednesday I was really struggling so I reached out to my consultant and spoke to his secretary to get some advice. I felt like I was in that limbo phase. I had increased my steroids on the Wednesday morning as per advice I got on Monday. I was finding it really hard going but was not at the stage of needing to call and ambulance and go to hospital but I need some help. Long story short I couldn’t get through to my consultant and then it was too late for me GP and there was no appointments so I was seen by the out of hours Dr who then sent me up to the hospital. From then it went downhill and went downhill very very quickly resulting in going to ITU.

I am going to do a separate post about the ins and outs of what happened when I deteriorated but with this post I wanted to focus on the importance of getting help.

Initially when I got better I was going over and over in my head trying to figure out what I missed or what went wrong for things to go downhill so quickly and escalate beyond measure. But there was nothing. I could not have tried to get any more help than I did, even getting help earlier would not have made a difference because the days before I spoke to the nurses the weather was ok and my breathing was not too bad (not great but not awful). The advice they would have given me would have been the same and that was to increase my prednisolone if my peak flow got to a certain level which I implemented when it did drop.

I consider myself to be some who has a good knowledge of asthma. I know about as much as I can about the condition. I take my medication religiously and don’t miss doses ever yet I was still able to have an asthma attack which was considered near fatal. There is a big push trying to ensure that people take their medications as prescribed and be vigilant with their asthma. Asthma is a disease that needs to be respected it does not stop and wait for anyone. It is important to remember that just taking your medication as prescribed does not make you immune from having asthma attacks. Getting to know your asthma, what triggers it, and what actions to take are so important. Had I not known all I do I am pretty sure that I would not be here.

I would urge everyone with asthma to make sure they take their medication as prescribed, know what triggers your asthma, have an asthma action plan and know when to get help and who to get help from. This really can save your life.

(I will be doing a further few posts about recent events. One which I will have password protected as it will go into detail about events in ICU etc and I know some may not want to read it. IF you want the password please do message me for it).

The gift that keeps on giving!!

Many on long term oral prednisolone will be familiar with the saying that it is the gift that keeps on giving. It is the one medication that gives those who are taking it life but also results in many secondary conditions resulting due to the side effects and the prolonged side effects.

I have written before that I have a love hate relationship with oral steroids. My lungs need them but the rest of my body certainly does not. Recently I have felt that the prednisolone just keeps on hitting me in the face with one thing after another from destroying my adrenal gland meaning unless there is a miracle I will never get off steroids, my bones have been leached of all their goodness and now have osteoporosis, my pancreas is affected meaning I have constantly high blood sugar levels, I have had issues with my eyes as well but never to the extent I do now.

For a good number of years now I have had swollen optic nerves. This has not caused me too much bother other than some pretty bad headaches, these headaches have been getting worse and more often to the point a few weeks ago it floored me. I was in bed the entire day, feeling sick and being sick. I have not had a migraine before but thee headaches are what I imagine they are like.

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I went to my optician last October- I was early for my annual check but I kept getting blurred vision at night and the feeling of having a film over my eyes which no matter how much I rubbed them or put moisturising drops still did not ease the discomfort. At this appointment we discovered I was missing a large chunk of my peripheral vision. I did the visual field test a number of times but each time I kept missing a full 1/4 of the circle in my left eye. Obviously this is not normal so I was referred on to the eye hospital with the final consultant visit the other day. I have been having a variety of scans, tests and drops put in my eyes to try and establish what is going on and the appointment was going to be the reveal all and I was hoping it would be an easy fix and also (clutching at straws a little) it would be something other than an effect from the prednisolone.

Anyway I saw the consultant who needs to speak to another consultant because she doesn’t really know what it is that is wrong but there is something seriously wrong. This did not fill be with hope. You go to the consultant because they know these things and can tell you what is wrong but its more waiting for just now while she speaks to her colleague, she is also wanting me to have a head MRI so they can get a better view of things but Im not really sure how that will help them as I don’t think it will show them anything in more details than they already have but maybe it will.

The long and short of it is I have swollen optic nerves but also the outside of the optic nerve is being compressed so the middle of it is bulging out and there is fluid accumulating with it. They don’t know why or how. They are not convinced it is related to my brain as the headaches I get are not consistent with raised intercrainial pressure which is reassuring. So its back to the waiting game.

Coping with allergic reactions

I have written a lot about my allergies and how the affect me. Being allergic to salicylic acid is a nightmare. It is in everything from fruit and veg to toothpaste. I have been salicylate free for a good 10 or so years now. On days where my asthma is not too bad I can manage food that has a low level of salicylic acid in it but even then I still react a bit but just break out in hives, go bright red, itchy and get a really productive chest and upper airways. This is with 3 different anti histamines onboard, a H2 blocker and oral steroids. I hate to think what I would be like if I did not take all of that and had a reaction.

The physical impact of allergic reactions is not great and the left overs hang around for ages, the itching particularly and then the exhaustion which is not helped by the extra anti-histamines I have to take when I do have a reaction.

For me the effect an allergic reaction has on me mentally is fairly significant. For example today I had a reaction when having my lunch. I had a lovely morning down at Cramond with Ghillie followed by some formal obedience training for Ghillie. The afternoon was full with meetings at the university. I had a reaction at lunchtime which knocked me for 6. I tried to get on top of it quickly so I would be able to make it to the university for my meetings but it didn’t work. I had to cancel and bail out of them. This is the part of having an unpredictable condition that I find so hard to deal with and cant find a good way to deal with it.

My main concern that I think about is what others think. I know I shouldn’t worry about what others are thinking and today of all days I should not have worried especially as the meetings I was meant to be at were with researchers from AUKCAR who all know about allergic reactions. You see so much and hear so much about people who say they have allergies to things but they don’t, it might be an intolerance or something just doesn’t agree with them but it is not a real allergy. This worries me so much as salicylic acid is in so much and I think people must think I am a fussy eater. I also have heard so many times from people who say their friend or family has allergies but they still eat things so it gives this false sense of what an allergy actually is. I have this fear that people think I am a hypochondriac when I wont go near stuff etc.

I don’t really know what I am trying to say other than my salicylic acid allergy is really difficult for me to deal with and having to cancel things at the drop of a hat due to a reaction is so frustrating as there is nothing more I can do to keep them in check.

In this day and age I just wish people would understand what a true allergy is compared to what disagrees with them or is an intolerance etc. It seems like everyone has allergies particularly gluten just now. In restaurants every other person appears to be ordering things that are gluten free yet then tuck into the bread or when they don’t like the taste fo the gluten free option they switch and just have the normal food. If it was a real allergy you would not be doing that, you would be avoiding the food like the plague.

One day I am sure I will be able to get a better handle on things and manage them in a way that I can recover from them quickly so I am not having to cancel plans so often.

A take away I would like readers to think about is how the person who is having to cancel things feels. I never do it because I want to, I cancel because I have to.

Oral Steroids and Bone Health

Oral steroids like prednisolone come with a vast array of side effects. Some of these side effects can be very visible such as weight gain, or thinning skin but these are not the side effects to be worried about. It is the silent side effects that we don’t see that need to most attention and care. As well as steroid induced diabetes and high blood sugar levels one of the other potentially catastrophic side effects from prednisolone and other oral steroids is bone thinning and osteoporosis.

Over the many years of taking oral prednisolone I have gone from someone who really did not think about the side effects to being hit full force in the face.

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I have been prescribed bone protection for years. Calci-chew D3 Forte twice a day and then alendrotnic acid once a week. I have to be honest and until maybe 5 years ago I was not the most compliant at taking my bone protection. The calci-chew never bothered me and it was easy to take but it was the alendronate I used to always forget. I think it is because you only take it once a week and when you take it you must take it with a full glass of water, be sitting up and not take any other medication with it. Part of my morning routine I do on auto pilot which included taking my medication. I would just take it, and do my teeth etc without thinking. Often by the time I realised I was meant to take my alendronate I would be half way through my breakfast. I was not missing it on purpose but after several experiences of taking it after eating I was not going to do it again in a hurry.

A good consultant will make sure you get a DEXA scan regularly especially if you are on long term oral steroids. I had not had one at all until maybe 5 years ago when I was sent for one to check my bone health. The results were shocking. I had early stage osteoporosis with significant bone density loss. I was at this point not even 30 and had the bones of an old lady. I also knew at this point that my asthma was not likely to get much better and I would be on oral steroids for a good portion of my life so I needed to wake up and make an extra effort to take my alendronate. Which I did.

The one slightly daunting part of the whole thing was filling in the pre DEXA scan questionnaire particularly the bit about you diet where it asks how much milk you drink and how much daily you have. I had to count up the average amount of milk over a week and I was pretty shocked!!! But I guess when it comes to bone health the more calcium the better!!

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Now it is the anxious wait for the results to be processed and sent back to my consultant. No matter what the result is there is not much more I could have done. Since finding out I had the early stages of osteoporosis I have been religious in taking my bone protection medication which is all I can ask for.

I do wonder that is the reason I have osteoporosis now because I was started on bone protection late but also because once started I never really took it as thought I didnt need it as I was young and my bones would be ok. I can’t dwell on it now because it has happened and I cant change things. I can only now stop things from getting worse rather than hoping to cure my bones.

If anyone reading this is on oral steroids and not taking calcium supplements from your GP, Asthma Nurse or Asthma consultant then please ask for them. Steroids can have an awful effect on your bones. One friend is now wheelchair bound due to the adverse effects of steroids on her bones.

Never underestimate the power of the humble oral steroid. They do some wonderful things and as a result mean many are alive but they do have some side effects which can be equally as devastating as not taking the drug themselves in the first place.

The Verdict!!

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I have been fairly quiet recently mainly because I was terrified. I have had 3 doses of Mepolizumab and was due to attend clinic and see my consultant for the verdict and find out if I am staying on it or not.

The good news is that I am staying on it for now.

Clinic went well. I am so glad that I had that horrific hospital admission that made me decide to change consultant because it has been the best thing I have ever done. It has come with some issues but overall it has been one of the best things I have done.

I had lung function and FeNo both of which were marginally better but what I have noticed is that I am more stable overall. Recording my peak flow has been super helpful and I can identify what causes were when they dropped whereas before I had no idea and it was all over the place. I would love my peak flow to increase but I am happy for stability over gains (gains are unlikely due to the fibrosis in my lungs now).

The other difference this consultant has decided on is with regard to my steroids. Previously it has been a rush to get me down to the lowest dose possible and see how I go but that has always ended up badly and I spend more time on higher doses and it felt like I was on a rollercoaster all the time. Now, as much as we want to get me down to a reasonable dose and hopefully off prednisolone (wish me luck) we are acknowledging what has happened in the past and he kept me on 20mg which felt like ages (3 months) and then alternating 20mg and 15mg daily (2 months) and now I am to stay on 15mg until February March time and then we will readdress reducing it further.

So many people have asked me if I think the mepolizumab is helping. It is so hard to stay. I think it must be as I have been more stable but I worry that this is due to the prolonged prednisolone and super slow reduction but what I am hoping that it is a combination of both. I guess the time to tell what is doing what is if I get unwell (touch wood I don’t) and I can see how quickly I can respond to treatment and not need invasive treatment. I am aiming for this as know hospital is going to happen as my consultant has said this. He said he would have no worries about admitting me to hospital if either he or myself thought my asthma was not great.

We are also changing one of my inhalers. For the first time in as long as I can remember I had an outpatient clinic where my medications were reviewed and we looked at what I needed to keep taking and what could get binned. The only change he wants to make just now is removing the seretide inhaler and replacing it with Relvar a newer once daily preventer inhaler. He wants me to continue taking some extra fluticasone at night to tide me over as I still have quite significant dips in my breathing at night.

Im happy I now have a plan. Know roughly what is happening with my asthma and asthma care. Over the winter period I will be seen every 2 weeks. Monthly clinics with my consultant and then in-between I will be up with the asthma nurse specialists getting my injection and review there. Also should there be an issue I just have to call in.

The one thing out of all of this which I cannot let go of is why did it take throwing my toys out the pram and move consultants to be able to get in control of my asthma or have a plan to get control of it. I just want answers and I know I won’t get them but I am now trying the treatments I have been asking about for a good number of years. I know dwelling on it won’t help but when its your life that has been suffering it is hard.

Chronic Pain with Chronic Illness

I get my medication each week in a dosette box made up by my local pharmacist. I take so many medications that when I am not well I find it hard to work out what I have taken and what I still need to take. I now don’t need to think about what I take, I just pop them out the relevant space and swallow them down in one.

Today I noticed something though. There were 5 unopened pods from this last week. The 5 unopened pods were all my lunchtime doses of pain killers. I had not been aware of deliberately not taking them but because I was not aware of not taking them then that means I was not in pain and needing them.

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Chronic pain is one part of my health that I shunned for so long. I had always had this perception that I was weak because I was in pain and also was very aware that the Dr’s may think I was just attention seeking or drug seeking. I think I thought this because of the number of times I have seen and heard the conversations had when people come in to hospital with abdominal pain with no real cause and the suggestion of it being psychological or drug seeking.

For many years I lived with pain in my chest specifically the left side of my chest/lung. Part of me didnt want to acknowledge it and if I didnt then I would be ok but then it was harder and harder to function due to the pain I was experiencing. It was one hospital admission when I was in ICU and due to staffing I was being looked after by an ICU advanced nurse practitioner. I think her experience of being a nurse and seeing patients in pain she could tell what was real pain. I had not been asking for pain killers but she could see me wincing and struggling. It was only after she spoke to me about it that I finally admitted to the pain and feeling I had when I took a breath in, the pain was not nearly as bad when exhaling but felt like something rubbing and stabbing when I inhaled. It was from then I spoke up about it and we looked into what was causing the pain. From then I have reluctantly taken painkillers regularly.

Further investigation was done into the area of my chest where I had the worst pain. X-rays showed I had previously fractured some of the ribs- most likely occurring due to coughing and my slightly weaker bones but it didnt show anything major that would explain the sharp, rubbing pain I would get when breathing in but didnt hurt if you pressed on it. I had a CT scan which revealed why I was so sore. A lot of scarring in that part of my lung but also the pleura didnt look normal and the Dr thinks this is what is causing the pain and rubbing feeling. I have never really had a bad bout of pleurisy but the Dr said the way I was describing it the pain made them think it was pleuritic even though I didnt have the infection etc to go with it. I was told that the cause has most likely been due to the infection, trauma and recurrent asthma attacks over the years that have never really had much time to recover before the next thing hit.

Managing pain with a lung condition has really been a big struggle. Certain drugs are out of the question- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are a total no no and I learnt the hard way when I decided to try ibuprofen gel on my skin but had a full allergic reaction to it (I thought it was just if I took the pills). The aim with pain control is to eliminate pain and allow everyday function which is what I tried to achieve but have never been able to do. To get optimal pain control meant side effects which often meant feeling dopey. I got onto a regime using co-codamol and nefopam which helped although during the week I would use a lower dose of co-codamol due to it making me feel like my head was in the clouds but this meant by the end of the day I was in so much pain. It would feel like the outside of my lung was on fire- no matter how gentle you were you when you took a breath in the pain was the same. To control this part I had oral morphine that I could take at night before doing nebulisers and physio. I went with this regime for a few years until I saw a Dr who decided I should be switched to prolonged release morphine rather than the nefopam, co-codamol and oromorph mix. I was reluctant about this as had a handle on what I was doing and although the pain was never gone it was far more bearable.

The Dr who thought outside the box was a consultant who I had not seen before but was a respiratory consultant. He asked me about the pain and what it felt like, and also what was important to me about everyday function and that if I could I didnt want to be taking painkillers you can get addicted to! I was only 30 at the time and was already taking more painkillers than I liked and it was a worry for the future if I did something that needed pain relief I had this image that they would think I was a junkie because would need a higher dose of painkiller than I should. The Dr said his main concern was getting the pain under control for me to function and be relatively pain free but I should not be on prolonged release morphine etc due to it suppressing your respiratory effort which I can afford to do. I was so happy to know I wouldn’t be taking the MST anymore but a little worried about what I was going to be taking as could not go back to the pain I once had.

The Dr suggested lidocaine patches to wear topically on my chest where it hurts to see if this helped the main as he felt there is most likely nerve involvement and the whole area is constantly irritated which is why it is always sore. He did joke that you cant rest your lungs like you can a sore leg to let it get better!!

So a new regime of painkillers started which was the lidocaine patch, co-codamol 4 times a day and then the oromorph for when my chest is really bad (they also use it for breathlessness to). Since starting on this regime I have been stunned at how the patch has worked. It doesn’t take the pain away totally and the Dr said this is good as it means it will let you know when to stop!!!

Most recently since moving to my new consultant and being kept on the higher dose of prednisolone the pain in my chest has been no where near as bad. Instead of going through 2 bottles of oromorph a month I don’t even use a whole one and as I noticed last week I have not been needing my lunchtime dose of painkiller either. I am so happy about this. I have always had at the back of my mind I want to get off all painkillers so having a week of less pain and not needing the painkillers is great. When I see my consultant next I am going to ask if we can maybe just drop down on the dose of painkiller with a view to stopping them and just having the patch and maybe the oromorph for emergencies!

The lidocaine patch has been life changing- I do not understand how it works really but it works so I don’t care. I try not to wear them at the weekend to have a break and just keep them for work and weekends when I have lacrosse or something.

With each day that goes by just now I am in no doubt that I made the right decision to move consultant. If I didnt I am pretty sure I would have been in hospital by now. Staying on 20mg of prednisolone has got me through a chest infection without needing to increase the dose just a few extra nebulisers and antibiotics. Obviously 20mg of prednisolone long term is not good but I am hoping that as the mepolizumab starts working I will notice the difference and we can reduce the prednisolone!!