This is What Arthritis Looks Like

Brent is a painter and decorator who sometimes has to take extended sick leave because of his lupus. “The longest time I had to be off work was three months,” he says.

Fortunately, Brent has a very supportive employer who encourages him to put his health first and always ensures he has a job to return to when he is well again.

Brent was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), also known as lupus, about 20 years ago.

“I walked up some stairs one day, huffing and puffing, and realised something was wrong. I landed up in a hospital with pericarditis – an inflammation of the membrane around the heart, which is caused by my lupus.”

Brent

Brent

Lupus

“I walked up some stairs one day, huffing and puffing, and realised something was wrong. I landed up in a hospital with pericarditis – an inflammation of the membrane around the heart, which is caused by my lupus.”

Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus affects the joints and skin. Still, it can also damage other internal systems such as kidneys, brain, blood, heart and lungs.

Doctors thought it was a viral infection, but after several relapses, they realised they were being caused by lupus. Pericarditis is the worst effect that Brent’s lupus has on him, but it also causes him plenty of muscle pain and pain that goes from his knees to his shoulders, and breathing can be agony.

“Pericarditis is like an elephant sitting on your chest. Not pain so much as weight and pressure. I can’t walk 3 metres without gasping for air, feeling nauseous and sweaty. A lupus flare often means pericarditis – the heart rubs too much against the membrane surrounding the heart – can cause scarring, so the heart doesn’t beat properly. It can also cause a build-up of fluid around the heart and could make it stop beating – fortunately, this can be drained.”

Brent is on a cocktail of medicines including pain relievers, immune suppressants, an anti-malarial drug, gout arthritis medications (for their anti-inflammatory effect), multi-vitamins and prednisone when he has a flare-up.

“I don’t really know if all the medication helps. I don’t know what would happen if I didn’t take all the medication.”

Brent has learned a few ways to self-manage his lupus, one of which is the use of Distraction for pain relief. “The mind is a powerful tool and can block pain by thinking of other things or concentrating on something else,” he explains.

Brent also exercises and says that once he starts moving, the body warms up, loosens up and feels better. He also says a warm bath with Epsom salts helps temporarily.

“It’s important to be in tune with your body and listen to it a wee bit. My body knows when it needs rest!”

Helping people manage their pain is a big part of what Arthritis New Zealand does. The arthritis educators take the time and effort to fully understand a person’s situation and then guides them on the best way forward. Distraction, warm baths and exercise are some of the tools Arthritis New Zealand shares with people to help them manage their arthritis.

Having lupus can be very limiting. Brent’s wife and daughter once went to a music concert in Auckland without him because he couldn’t face the trip.

Arthritis New Zealand says that everyone knows someone with arthritis, so arthritis affects everyone. “I know it’s hard on my wife to see me going off in the ambulance. Last time was about a year ago. It used to be once every two years or so – so don’t know if it’s getting worse now. Perhaps the meds aren’t working like they used to.”

This is what arthritis looks like – a working-age husband and father who misses weeks of work at a time and loses out on family time he won’t get back.

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