Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Vertigo and Physical Therapy

I started having chronic nausea in 2015 after my first hospitalization since 2007. My chronic nausea has persisted in spite of a mix of medications and Peppermint Oil. These treatments are helpful in managing my nausea but they do not cure it. A couple years ago, I started noticing visual triggers to my nausea and over time the number of visual triggers began to expand. Strobe lights and the movements of others or objects easily trigger my nausea. It was then that I was diagnosed with Vertigo that was worsening my nausea. I rarely felt dizzy but at times the room would spin and I felt unsafe to drive until the dizziness dissipated. A friend recommended physical therapy to me in an effort to help reduce the Vertigo and so my GI specialist sent me to a local physical therapy center.

Although the Vertigo was the primary focus of my physical therapy, my therapist also wanted to include core strength and range of motion for my neck as additional goals. My core remains weak after 7 abdominal surgeries and I have chronic neck pain with limited range of motion due to degeneration in my neck. My therapist explained that my limited movement had not only contributed to the development of Vertigo but was also worsening my symptoms.

A common cause of Vertigo is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) that occurs when tiny calcium particles become dislodged and enter the inner ear. My therapist explained that my limited head and neck movements were creating these particles and caused them to wrongfully enter my inner ear resulting in my dizziness and nausea. 

Not only does Vertigo cause dizziness and nausea but other symptoms may include balance issues, abnormal or jerking eye movements, headache, sweating, ringing of the ears or hearing loss.

The physical therapist completed an evaluation of my Vertigo symptoms and found that I also presented with the abnormal, jerking eye movements. The evaluation included a dizziness questionnaire and movements of my head to try to invoke nausea or dizziness. She would later use the technique to determine the presence of jerky eye movements to help determine the effectiveness of physical therapy on my Vertigo. My physical therapist also performed whole body movements on myself to help move the calcium particles in my inner ear into the correct locations. 

VOR Exercise
I completed 8 sessions of physical therapy before being released. I completed several different exercises to improve my balance which would also help reduce my Vertigo. I started with single leg stances on each leg. First, these were completed with my eyes open and then as I progressed it was changed to eyes open, moving my head in all four directions, and finally using a bosu ball. In addition to completing single leg stances on the bosu ball, I also had to turn the bosu ball upside down and complete squats on it. This was like doing squats on a see-saw. I also did an exercise called Vestibular Ocular Reflex (VOR) that is completed by keeping my eyes on a fixed object in front of my face and moving my head from left to right while maintaining my focus on the object. This exercise helps to recalibrate the eye, inner ear, and brain. The remainder of my exercises focused on core strengthening and on stretching my neck to improve my range of motion thereby reducing the development of these calcium particles and their risk of entering my inner ear.

After a month of physical therapy, my therapist felt as though I had reached the maximum level of benefit physical therapy could provide me and I should continue my exercises on my own at home indefinitely. I'm hesitant to say that my Vertigo is cured. However, I have noticed less use of my Vertigo medication and increased ability to tolerate visual triggers for longer periods after the completion of physical therapy. 

If you suffer from Vertigo, I would highly recommend requesting physical therapy as part of your treatment plan for the Vertigo. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Understanding Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when more water is lost from the body than the amount of water that is taken in.

Dehydration is a common struggle for those of us who have required colon removal. Without the colon, water is not absorbed properly and typically results in liquid stools. Many of us without a colon are also diagnosed with Short Bowel Syndrome. SBS further worsens the absorption of nutrition and water due to damage to or significant removal of the small intestine resulting in frequent diarrhea. Some individuals with SBS require lifelong TPN in order to meet their nutrition needs.

I was diagnosed with Short Bowel Syndrome as a child after part of my small intestine died from surgical complications of my colon removal. My SBS causes me to have a minimum of 20 stools in a 24 hour period - more if I am having a flare up. During a SBS flare, it is common for me to use the restroom as frequently as every 2-5 minutes for several hours at a time.

It is common for those with an ileostomy or Short Bowel Syndrome to experience stools soon after ingesting liquid further complicating our ability to take in adequate amounts of water.

Later, when I was in high school, it was discovered that I had a hole in my small intestine. As a result, I was placed on an NPO diet and started on TPN for my nutritional/hydration needs. I became accustomed to not drinking fluids due to the NPO diet while my intestine's hole was healing. I began to only drink fluid when I felt thirsty, which wasn't often. As an adult, I started being followed by a nephrologist a few years ago due to the discovery of cysts on my kidneys. While this could mean that I have Polycystic Kidney Disease, my nephrologist thinks it may just be due to years of dehydration. This has prompted me to truly make an effort at achieving and maintaining a state of hydration. In spite of my efforts of at times drinking 100+ ounces of water a day, my nephrologist states I remain in a dehydrated state.

For those with colon cancer causing conditions such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis or Lynch Syndrome may also experience dehydration worsened by cancer treatments. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments may cause side effects including diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive urination that may result in dehydration. 

My Nephrologist advised me that becoming hydrated requires several days - nearly a week - of continuous increased fluid intake for the body to fully become hydrated. One or two days of drinking well isn't going to be enough.

What are the signs of dehydration?

Common signs of dehydration include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased urination
  • Dark yellow/amber colored urine
  • Decreased skin elasticity 
  • Dry mouth and mucous membranes (such as lips, gums, nostrils)
  • Muscle weakness
Severe signs of dehydration include:
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lack of perspiration
  • Sunken eyes
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fever
  • Delirium
  • Unconsciousness

Risks of Dehydration

If dehydration is severe and not rectified, an individual may experience:
  • Hypovolemic Shock - a reduction in blood volume that drops the blood pressure and amount of oxygen in the body. 
  • Increased risk to heart and cardiovascular system - blood volume decreases cause the heart to work harder and faster which increases blood pressure and heart rate. Sodium is also increased in the blood from dehydration resulting in blood thickening that over works the heart. 
  • Seizures due to electrolyte imbalance
  • Kidney issues such as kidney stones, UTIs, or even kidney failure. Water helps to remove toxins in the blood via urination. Dehydration can result in the build up of toxins and acids in the body.
  • Heat injury - ranging from mild cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke
  • Coma, Organ failure, and death may result from untreated dehydration

Diagnosing Dehydration

Several physical factors may be examined in addition to laboratory tests to identify common electrolyte changes associated with dehydration may be utilized for diagnosis. This may include:
  • Mental status exam
  • Vital signs
  • Temperature
  • Skin and mouth examination
  • Blood tests and urinalysis
  • Infants may also be examined for a sunken, soft spot on the skull, sucking mechanism, and loss of sweat and muscle tone

Treating and Preventing Dehydration

The U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine recommend men to drink 15.5 cups and women to drink 11.5 cups of water a day. It's recommended to limit or avoid caffeinated drinks.

An individual may need to adjust their daily water intake due to exercising, environment, overall health, and if they are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

IV fluids may be required for severe or recurring dehydration. This is common for those with malabsorption issues. 

There are several hydration products available to help prevent dehydration. Simply search for hydration drinks. Compare the amount of electrolytes and sugar in a drink when shopping. Some hydration products include:

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Continent Ileostomies

ostomy bag

If you're like me, you haven't heard a lot about different ostomy options for colon removal. Individuals frequently hear about the typical ostomy option - the ileostomy (even though many incorrectly refer to ileostomies as colostomies thinking colostomy is the general term for an ostomy). The conventional ileostomy has an external stoma with a wafer and pouch system and involuntarily releases gas and feces into the pouching system worn over the stoma. However, there is another kind of ileostomy called a continent ileostomy that is created internally allowing for gas and feces to be eliminated by inserting a catheter through a stoma into an internal pouch or reservoir that collects gas and feces.

The continent ileostomy is created from the end of the small intestine and another segment of intestine that is telescoped into itself that creates a nipple valve. The stoma created for a continent ileostomy is flush with the skin whereas a conventional ileostomy stoma protrudes from the skin. A small covering is recommended to be worn over the continent ileostomy stoma to absorb mucus from the intestine. The nipple valve is self sealing to prevent gas or feces from exiting the stoma involuntarily. 

The first continent ileostomy was devised by Dr. Koch known as a Koch Pouch, sometimes spelled Kock or referred to as a K-Pouch. The technique was later revised by Dr. Barnett and is known as a BCIR - Barnett Continent Intestinal Reservoir.

The Koch Pouch has an increased risk of a fistula developing due to a triangulated suture line. A fistula can occur due to breakdown in the internal pouch wall that allows waste to leak out that occurs until an abscess on the surface of the skin appears. The BCIR reduces the risk of a fistula developing due to a lateral internal pouch design that has a single longitudinal suture line.

The BCIR changes the direction of the nipple valve in comparison to how it is with a Koch Pouch. This change in direction allows for the muscle contractions to direct waste and mucus toward the internal pouch rather than the stoma. An intestinal collar is also created by the BCIR that tightens as the pouch fills with waste. This collar tightening helps to prevent the nipple valve from slipping.

According to WebMD, following the creation of the continent ileostomy, an indwelling catheter will stay inserted into the internal pouch to allow for continuous draining for 3-4 weeks. The catheter will need to be irrigated several times a day as well with an ounce of water. Once the internal pouch heals and matures, the pouch will need to be drained several times per day. Without draining, the pouch will fill and risk tearing or the nipple valve slipping or leaking. 

Draining the internal pouch can be accomplished by relaxing the abdominal muscles before lubricating the catheter and inserting it through the stoma to the preset mark on the catheter. Once continuous drainage use has been discontinued, it is recommended to drain the internal pouch every 2 hours during the day, upon awakening in the morning and before going to bed. It is recommended not to eat or drink within 2 hours of bedtime and the catheter can be set to constant drainage during the night. Over time, the time in between internal pouch drains can be lengthened resulting in the ability to drain the pouch 4 to 6 times a day and irrigated twice a day. It is also recommended to drain the internal pouch anytime feeling full or bloated and before exercising or going to bed. 

A conventional ileostomy and a continent ileostomy both are life saving and allow an individual to continue living with minor adjustments to activities. An ostomy of any kind does not have to limit an individual's lifestyle and can allow for increased quality of life. If you are facing surgery to remove your colon for any reason, a continent ileostomy may be another option for you to discuss with your doctor. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Accepting Body Changes

It's common for those of us with chronic illness to struggle with our weight - whether it be to gain weight or to lose weight. Exercise is often difficult to maintain when we don't feel well and everyday is unpredictable. Eating healthy may not be as easily accessible to others be it due to financial burdens we face on account of our medical expenses, limited income related to ability to work, or because of health reasons such as diet restrictions from what our bodies will tolerate or what tastes good in the moment. Our bodies often don't absorb nutrients properly and medications have side effects affecting weight. Mental health can influence weight - we may be hungry or not at all, we comfort ourselves with unhealthy food options, and we may lack the motivation or energy level to engage in physical exercise.

The last 4 years has been a roller coaster of body weight changes for myself. For the majority of my life I was considered under weight regardless of what I ate. However, the body changes with illness and with age. In Graduate School, I gained a significant amount of weight due to unhealthy eating and depression and I worked very hard over the course of 2 years to lose the extra weight. I exercised and ate healthy and I was able to maintain my weight again through healthy eating choices until my divorce 4 years ago.

My weight yo-yoed over the last 4 years since my divorce, which wasn't healthy or helpful for my metabolism. I lost weight at times due to healthy eating and other times due to illness. Last year, I gained weight to my heaviest again. I started this year exercising regularly and eating healthier in an effort to improve my health and shed some of the extra weight. I realized I didn't need to lose all the weight but instead wanted a happy medium between being under weight and my present weight. I failed to realize though that the changes the body undergoes with age has caught up to me. My metabolism is not anywhere near to what it was in my 20s when I first started focusing on eating healthy and exercising. Now, the combination of eating healthy and exercise only changes the scale by less than 10 pounds. To make matters worse, after losing that 10 pounds, I ended up gaining 20 soon after - that was an additional 10 pounds that I hadn't been at before.

These changes in my physical appearance have been difficult to accept at times. I longed for how my body used to look. I shied away from full body pictures of myself. I was so used to what I previously looked like that I hadn't accepted the changes in my appearance. I kept thinking, "I'll lose the weight". Negative thoughts about myself would race through my mind whenever I looked at pictures of myself or saw myself in the mirror.

Now, I realize that my weight changes may not seem to be significant especially in comparison to others. But this shouldn't be a comparison to others nor should it encourage body shaming. All bodies are beautiful and no one should ever feel ashamed of how they look. And no one should judge another person for their appearance nor should someone be judged for their own self-image regardless what others think of that person's physical appearance. My weight changes, however, are significant to me and the change I saw in myself was difficult to come to terms with. 

With time, I became to understand why others said I was "too skinny" before when I was underweight. My doctors tell me it's good "to have some extra weight as reserves" for when I become sick so that I don't lose too much weight like I have in the past. With time, I've come to accept my new body. Sure, I would still like to lose weight to be at that middle ground between to the two polar opposites. But I've realized I may not reach that middle ground level. And that's okay. I can continue to exercise and eat healthy not for an outward change but instead for the internal benefits. With this acceptance has also come a happy medium with exercise as I no longer push myself to exercise every day and instead aim for 3-5 times a week as allowed by motivation levels and how my body feels each day. Sometimes when I look at myself in pictures, I feel that initial shock again of the weight I've gained but I remind myself that my body is not shameful and I can continue to my efforts to help maintain a healthy level of eating and exercise for myself, not for the scale.

Jenny - May 2020

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Socializing in a Pandemic

dinner table

As the year is drawing to an end and the holiday season has begun, it got me thinking about how different socializing is with my loved ones.

The holiday season doesn't hold much significance for me although my family does have its own traditions. For Thanksgiving, my parents and I like to go to my favorite Chinese restaurant for the treat of Dim Sum. Since purchasing my home a few years ago the tradition has been for my dad's family to join us for Christmas at my house during the first week or two of December for a meal cooked by my parents. Then my parents and I like to have a meal just the three of us on actual Christmas day. My parents and I decided to downsize our holiday meals a few years ago and it has greatly reduced holiday stress all around for each of us.

This year is different though thanks to Covid. My parents and I have been having a meal together once every week or two. We all wear masks and socially distance from one another. We don't even hug each other anymore. We were planning to have Indian Tacos together with my boyfriend, Mike, for Thanksgiving. That was until Mike was exposed to someone with Covid so both of our families decided to cancel any get-togethers. We both remain asymptomatic and are awaiting testing. To truly know if you're positive for Covid, it sounds as though daily testing is what's actually needed. According to Harvard Health Publishing, if you test too early or too late, there aren't enough viral particles to detect the virus. This has made it more difficult to determine when Mike should be tested as we are uncertain when exactly he was exposed or when that person started experiencing symptoms. We also didn't want to risk a false negative and then expose anyone in our families to us if one of us is actually positive for Covid.

My dad is the youngest of 8, the oldest being in her late 80s. As he and his siblings are older, we decided not to host a Christmas meal for the family. My parents and I still plan to have a meal together, however, that is subject to change as life is unpredictable during a pandemic.

Being apart from family for the holidays is a small price to pay to help maintain my health and theirs. I greatly miss being able to hug my parents but my priority is keeping them safe. This is particularly true as I am still working in the medical field and am exposed to many more individuals than my parents.

Technology has been a blessing during this year so that I may text, call, and video chat my parents and my nieces. It isn't the same as an in-person visit or hugging a loved one. It remains an option to be grateful for though. One of my patients told me that every Saturday he and his wife video chat with all of their children over dinner. Each week someone chooses a recipe and every household makes the same meal that they then enjoy while video chatting together.

It has been difficult to not be able to see my friends or my nieces as often as I usually would have this year. I did take the risk of spending a day with my best friend and her family during the summer, Mike and I went on a vacation to Colorado, and I had an outing with each of my nieces this Fall. I feel as though it has been particularly hard on my nieces not being able to have our usual outings as I want to keep them and myself healthy. I'm fortunate to have the companionship of Mike to help me cope with the stress and isolation of this year. Since we are our own grouping, I am able to receive all the hugs from him that I'm missing from my parents. Not everyone who is isolating has that blessing. I am grateful that Mike and I started dating prior to the pandemic starting as I would not have felt comfortable being involved in the dating world during these times. 

Our families have been kind to offer to drop off a part of their holiday meals so that we may still partake as we are able without potentially placing them or others at risk. This holiday season looks quite different than years past but hopefully, we'll be able to look forward to many more holiday seasons together if we remain safe and cognizant during this time.

As the progress of a Covid vaccine advances, I'm hopeful that by this time next year the world will be very different from what it is like today. I wish you all the best health - physically and mentally during these times. Reach out to loved ones as safely as possible - not only for your well-being but theirs as well. We all need one another, perhaps more now than ever.