Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Friday, January 19, 2018

My 2017 in review

For those who don't regularly ready my blog, I give myself a daily rating of my overall health and keep it on a spreadsheet along with notes about changes to my treatments, diet, etc. I've been doing this every day since 2011. At the end of every month and every year, I calculate monthly and yearly averages.  The hope is that this will help me figure out what treatments, foods, and lifestyle changes led to improvements or setbacks.  It has worked sometime and other times left me with no answers.

The average of all my daily health ratings for 2017 was about a percentage point lower than 2016.  In fact, it was the third straight year of decline.  From 2013 to 2014, I experienced a major improvement in my health rating average, and the improvement was noticeable "in real life" too.  2014 was my best year, but I have regressed by about one percentage point each year since.  If this trend continues into 2018, I will be back at about the same average as 2013 by the end of the year. 

I feel generally about the same as I felt in 2014 -- my best year -- or maybe only slightly worse.  One of two things is happening: One, I've simply forgotten how much better I felt in 2014 as my health very gradually regressed over the course of 4 years.  That's very possible.  It's also possible that I'm grading myself more strictly as the years go by.  I do seem to recall that I used to focus more on my main symptom of ME:  PEM/flu-like malaise.  I think in 2014, I used to rate a day highly if there was little or no PEM but in spite of the fact that I might have another strong symptom like prostatitis, shortness of breath, or kidney aches.  It's possible that in more recent years, I have started to count these other symptoms (which are all obviously related to ME) more in my daily rating.  Maybe it's a combination of both.

In the first half of the year (February) I had to conduct a fairly stressful 2 week arbitration at work.  January was also defined by stressful preparation for this arbitration. After the arbitration was over, my health seemed to crash and I think it took me most of the rest of the first half of the year to get back on track after that.  I had a good run from May to July.  It's unfortunate, but I don't think there was any way I could have turned down the arbitration - I had to do it.   

The second half of my 2017 was defined by the onset of what I now believe is most likely SIBO.  Abdominal tenderness and bloating set in on a very specific day in early August.  I remember the day clearly.  Ever since that day, I have had bouts of tenderness and bloating on and off, but mostly "on."  Recently I had a positive SIBO breath test.  Despite the SIBO, however, my best month ended up being December. I don't know how to explain that except for the fact that I had just resumed taking phosphatidylcholine (PC), which also seems to make me feel better at first. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My GI doctor's take on SIBO

I had an appointment with a gastrointestinal specialist (Dr. L) today to discuss the results of my recent positive SIBO breath test.  Mostly I was curious if the diagnosis of SIBO is taken seriously in "mainstream medicine" or if it's considered a sort of "fringe" diagnosis.  I also wanted to know how he would propose treating it, to get a second opinion.  (Dr. M. has suggested treating with the antibiotic Rifaximin.)

Dr. L said that he usually only discusses SIBO after he has ruled out all other potential causes of symptoms.  "SIBO comes last," he said.  He said that a few years ago, he used to be more interested in SIBO and would jump to a SIBO diagnosis more often, but he also said he considers it a bit of a "wastebasket diagnosis."  He explained that he used to treat SIBO with Rifaximin but he said that patients almost always came back in a few months when the SIBO had returned.  "...And I can't just keep prescribing you Rifaximin," he said.  Apparently, it was for this reason--futility--that Dr. L was less likely to jump to a SIBO diagnosis in recent years. He also suggested that the test results can be questionable.  Again, I wish I had asked more questions to clarify this, but I always seem to think of these questions when I'm driving away.

Dr. L said that when he does treat SIBO, he prefers probiotics (to "overwhelm the bad bacteria with the good bacteria") to antibiotics, although he is not adverse to trying antibiotics once.  Despite his reluctance to diagnose SIBO before other conditions have been ruled about, he did admit, without prompting by me, that my symptoms do seem consistent with SIBO.

In the end, he sent me away with some samples of VSL#3 and told me to try to treat if with probiotics, and if I still didn't feel better in a few weeks, I could call back. However, he said that if I call back, he would first have to rule out other possibilities by either doing a CT scan of the abdomen, and/or scopes, and/or stool sample testing.  (My feeling is these would probably not lead to anything useful.)  Previously he had ordered an abdominal ultrasound and some scopes and these were completely negative.

I have an appointment back with Dr. M (the doctor who originally diagnosed me with SIBO) on Monday.  I'm going to see if she can get me approved for one round of Rifaximin to see if it helps at all.  If not, I will try the probiotics/diet/herbal antibiotics route. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

More on SIBO

When I last posted about SIBO in December, I had been told verbally by my doctor's office that the SIBO test came back positive, but I didn't yet have the results. I was, at that time, slightly concerned that the test could be a false positive.

Now I've received the written results and I am less concerned with the possibility of a false positive.  I feel fairly certain that I do have SIBO.

SIBO breath tests look for increases in either methane or hydrogen after drinking a specified amount of glucose or lactulose.  While my results showed a slight increase in methane, they showed a very great increase in hydrogen.  One common SIBO test interpretation states that "a rise in hydrogen of more than 20 ppm after 90 minutes should be considered as diagnostic of SIBO."  In me, the hydrogen rose more than 80 ppm within 90 minutes, four times more than the minimum for a SIBO diagnosis.

Dr. M prescribed rifaximin, the most commonly prescribed antibiotic to treat SIBO.  When I arrived at the pharmacy, the pharmacist advised that my insurance doesn't cover rifaximin.  Paying for it on my own is not an option.  My plan now is to re-visit my doctor later this month (mid-January) and work with her to (hopefully) obtain insurance pre-authorization for rifaximin.

In the mean time, I have switched my diet to a common SIBO diet known as the low-FODMAP diet.  So far, this diet has helped with symptom control, but has not eliminated symptoms.   The bloating and discomfort I was previously having has been mostly gone since about day 3 of the diet.  However, I only switched to the low FODMAPS diet about 2 weeks ago, so it is possible this could be just another break in the symptoms (which I would get sometimes even before I changed my diet.)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

My EBV dilemma

I will return to discussing SIBO in my next post because there have been more developments for me in the last two days.  But in the meantime, I have no idea what to do about treating Epstein Bar Virus, if at all.  I rarely post questions to the ME message boards because I try to be respectful of the fact that everyone there is sick--often much worse than me--and has limited energy resources.  In this case, however, I was dying for more opinions so I posted the question below on Phoenix Rising.  I'm re-posting it here too:

I'm at a complete loss whether to treat chronic EBV, and I have two doctors recommending different things. I don't know which one to believe, so I'm hoping PR will have some opinions.  If you make it through this long explanation, thank you!

Background:  Since getting ME in 2011, I've always had positive IgG tests for EBV, with titers that are perhaps considered equivocal for possible reactivation.  I've been on an off antivirals such as Famvir, Acyclovir and Valacyclovir since 2011 and never noticed much of a difference in how I felt.  The drugs never made a difference in the antibody levels either.

Over the past 12 months, however, I have also had 5 tests that were positive IgM for EBV.  This got my attention more than the IgG because it's more suggestive of an active re-infection as opposed to relying on interpretation of IgG results.  Now I have two doctors giving me opposite interpretations and both seem logical.  I don't know who to believe and whether to focus on treating EBV.

Doctor 1:  She is an integrative medicine doctor who doesn't necessarily focus on ME, but treats many patients with Lyme, mold sensitives, MCS, etc.  While she has been useful for treating hypothyroid and a few other treatments, her judgment and medical knowledge can seem questionable. A couple of times she has suggested treatments that have no basis in science and seem to be almost quackery.  

She is the one who's been ordering the repeated EBV IgM tests and she, at my suggestion, put me on the doctor Lerner antiviral protocol a couple/few months ago.  This protocol involves high doses of Valacylovir: 1 gram, 3x/day.

Doctor 2:  Doctor 2 is known as one of the better infectious disease specialists in my area, but she is very much from the traditional school of medicine.  Although she is a former partner of the famous Dr. Chia, she doesn't know the first thing about ME.  She took one look at the repeated IgM+ results and said they are false positive. (This was consistent with my original understanding of how IgM antibodies work--that they are only present during the first 3-14 days of an infection.)  She said she didn't need further convincing, but if it would help convince me, she would order a PCR test for EBV.  I accepted. The PCR test was negative.

At first I thought the negative PCR test settled the issue once and for all: I don't have active EBV.  But then Doctor 1 said those results don't mean anything -- or rather that they just mean the virus isn't in that one sample of blood, but the virus could be in other parts of the body. 

Dr. Chia, by the way, also thinks the IgM test results are false positive.  It's two doctors with good reputations against one who is, in my opinion, questionable.  But then again, why me (why us)?  I would bet a normal healthy person wouldn't keep triggering positive IgM results.  

I can't decide who's right.  Any thoughts would be appreciated. 

[Edit:  There are some very insightful responses in the Phoenix Rising thread.]

Thursday, December 14, 2017

My SIBO test was positive

A few weeks ago when I had my last appointment with Dr. M, we were discussing my G.I. distress and she mentioned that I could submit to a SIBO test.  ("SIBO" is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.)  I had considered that my G.I. distress might be caused by SIBO, but when I reviewed  the list of symptoms of SIBO, I had only 2 or 3 of the 13 symptoms.  I have bloating, fatigue, and occasional nausea, but none of the other symptoms.  So I considered SIBO a possibility, but not a strong one.

I told Dr. M I wanted to take time to think about whether to spend money on the SIBO test.  Then when my next flare of G.I. symptoms occurred, it seemed much more urgent that I find answers. I called Dr. M's office and asked them to mail the test kit. 

Taking the SIBO test involves using a device to capture one's breath every 20 minutes for about 2 hours.  The subject must fast overnight before the test, and there are dietary restrictions the day before the test. 

Dr. M's office called me this morning and advised that the results were positive.  I am, however, wondering if this could be a false positive.  Insurance doesn't normally cover SIBO breath tests, indicating it may been seen as somewhat new or unproven.  The large corporate labs such as Quest and LabCorp don't offer SIBO tests (to my knowledge) which also suggests the test may be questionable. Then again, one could fill a Wiki with everything mainstream medicine doesn't know or has gotten wrong in recent years. 

Before the test, the subject has to drink a solution of either lactulose or glucose.  Lactulose can lead to false positive results in some cases, and glucose can lead to false negative results.  I took the lactulose solution because the lab's paperwork described it as the default test. 

I have an appointment scheduled for Monday to discuss these results with Dr. M.  She'll no doubt want to put me on antibiotics, which is the standard treatment for SIBO.  I'll have to decide then if I trust these test results enough to take the antibiotics, or if I should try the glucose test. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Searching for G.I. answers

I keep thinking my G.I. symptoms have gone again because they will disappear for as much as a week at a time. But then they comes back without warning.  This has continued since late July.

I saw a G.I. specialist last week and, get this, he thinks it is costochondritis!  I don't need a medical degree to know with 100% certainty it is not costochondritis.  He thinks it's costo because I told him that the area of most discomfort was just below my left, front rib cage.  But, look, just because that's where the discomfort is often the worst, costochondritis doesn't explain why the discomfort is often spread throughout my entire abdomen--much of which is far from my ribs. 

In any event, the doctor wasn't completely sure of his diagnosis because he also told me to try Zantac for 30 days in case the issue is actually related to overproduction of stomach acid.  (After the appointment I searched Zantac on a few popular ME patient forums and found that it is actually taken by some ME patients who believe they have mast cell activation.  There's mostly anecdotal evidence that it may calm mast cells, and it is often prescribed by at least one semi-well-known ME doctor for suspected mast cell activation)  So I started taking Zantac about a week ago and so far haven't noticed a difference.  (Also, so far, I haven't noticed any difference in my shortness-of-breath symptoms, proving perhaps once and for all, that my SOB is not caused by GERD as one doctor suggested.)

The doctor also ordered an abdominal ultrasound, and blood work to check iron, lipase, ferratin, along with CBC, Cardio CRP, and comprehensive metabolic panel.  I doubt this will yield any useful results, but it is part of the process for me (any many other patients) when a new symptom arises or an old symptom suddenly gets much worse. 

If I arrive at the date of my follow-up appointment in January and the G.I. specialist tells me the test results are all negative, then I'll probably conclude that this new symptoms is ME sending its inflammatory cytokines at a new area of my body. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

My infectious disease specialist dismisses EBV results

I visited an infectious disease specialist this week (Dr. P), in part because I had heard that her referral would be a necessary step in obtaining approval for IVIG, which I've been hoping to be prescribed.  It didn't go as hoped.

As background: this was the same infectious disease specialist I consulted in 2011 when I was still in the "acute phase" and didn't yet have a diagnosis.  I remember being really confused and scared at the time.  In the end, she suggested I might have post-viral syndrome.  I thought maybe, upon seeing me again after 6 years, she would be surprised that I still hadn't recovered and perhaps become extra motivated to help find solutions.

I brought copies of my labs and she reviewed them.  She had two conclusions: (1) the four positive Epstein Bar Virus (EBV) IgM results are, according to her, "false positives," and (2) even if they are not false positives, there is no point in continuing to take Valacyclovir.

This first conclusion about "false positives" shouldn't have been surprising to me.  When I saw the first positive EBV IgM test result back in January, 2017, I thought it must be a mistake because I had already had EBV in the past and it was my understanding that once you've had a particular infection, your immune system will never produce IgM antibodies to that pathogen again.  And it certainly won't produce IgM antibodies for months or years on end.  However, after one of my other doctors, Mr. M, started taking these test results seriously, I suppose I concluded that perhaps I didn't fully understand how IgM antibodies work.  Maybe I had oversimplified it.

Now, after having consulted with the infectious disease specialist, I think she is probably correct.  But it still doesn't answer the question, why am I producing these consistently false positives?  Is there something about my blood that makes these false positives happen, and is that, itself, indicative of a disease state?  The tests were conducted by two separate labs which use different screening methods, so why am I testing positive at both?  Dr. P could only respond vaguely that "EBV serology is complicated."

In the end, Dr. P offered to order a PCR blood test to be absolutely certain that I don't have an active EBV infection.  PCR screening is, more or less, the "gold standard" for viral detection.  Rather than test for the presence of a virus indirectly, by looking for the immune system's response to the virus (antibodies), PCR screening looks directly for the virus itself.  I agreed that I wanted to know for certain, even though Dr. P said she herself was already certain.  I haven't given blood yet for this PCR screening, but I will soon.

There's no point yet in discussing Dr. P's second conclusion that taking Valacyclovir is pointless for EBV infections.  I have my doubts about that conclusion (it feels like the "standard medicine" approach, which puts on blinders when it comes to complex disease states like ME).  But I'll wait to see what the PCR screening reveals before I even consider that issue further.  If Dr. P is right and I don't actually have active EBV, then I can stop taking Valacyclovir immediately and don't need to make any tough choices.

Dr. P also made it clear that I have absolutely no hope of getting approval for IVIG because of my total IgG count which, despite being low in one subclass, is quite "robust." From everything I've been reading lately about how difficult it is to be approved for IVIG, I think she is probably right.  I'm going to move on from that quest.