RSD/CRPS, Multiple Sclerosis, LDN & Ketamine


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It is rare for me to see a patient who is not complex.

They have failed so many treatments for so many years before they call.

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This is the report of a lovely woman in her early 70’s with progressive Multiple Sclerosis for 30 years and paraplegia that has forced her to use an electric scooter the last 5 years, and power wheelchair the last 2o years. Because of total paralysis of the right lower limb, she fell and shattered her femur, the thigh bone, in August 2009. Tragically, and all too often, the surgeon failed to diagnose Complex Regional Pain Syndrome [CRPS], even failed to visit her in the hospital. CRPS increased the fatigue she had already had from Multiple Sclerosis.

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Thankfully a physical therapist suggested the diagnosis.

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Why is pain management not a required subject for physicians?

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I have written elsewhere that the American Pain Society discovered that our National Institute of Health, NIH, devotes less than half of 1% of their research dollar to pain research. Of 28 NIH institutes, none for pain, three for addiction. This will not change soon. The only hope is that RSDSA.org will succeed in collaborating with all pain organizations, groups with dystonia, chronic fatigue in order to give a voice and research dollar to advances.

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Before seeing me in September, she had 11 sympathetic blocks with no benefit.

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Does it make you wonder why 11 were done?

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How does insurance authorize 11 when 10 had no benefit? I have just learned that a doctor must indicate at least 50% relief before another will be authorized. That explains it.

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Then she was given opioids including tramadal and Butrans patch which rendered her a “zombie,” sedated, poor memory, unable to function. She tried 4 or 5 treatments of Calmare with no benefit but was advised she needed a clear neural pathway for it to work. That was not possible due to the Multiple Sclerosis.
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Lyrica caused severe edema. Gabapentin 1400 mg/day caused weight gain, increased her appetite  more than usual, but she remained on it. She craves sweets more than usual, at times uncontrollably. Perhaps it can be slowly tapered now. Advil 600 mg gave some benefit but caused ulcers that required Nexium.

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Since her initial visit a few weeks ago, she became 60% better during her two week stay.

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I will highlight only two of the new medications started.

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It may also be said that opioids are not the answer.

Opioids may perpetuate pain.
They may produce paradoxical pain or opioid induced hyperalgesia or windup.

They may block the effect of ketamine and other adjuvants that would otherwise lower pain.

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Of importance is that she was not able to tolerate clothing on her right lower limb for three years, not even a sheet, and now she is able to sleep through the night without pain for the first time in three years and able to wear a skirt. This allows her to go out with family to restaurants and even to enjoy shopping with her daughter. Her dose of ketamine is very small relative to most of my patients and she uses it only once or twice a day since most of the new medications have brought her pain down.

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At her first visit one month ago, she rated pain from 6 to 8 on a scale of 10, average 7/10. Now 60% better, ranging from zero to 7, average 4. Yes zero pain, sleeping through the night without pain and waking without pain. She had not been able to tolerate touch to the right thigh or foot and would pull her skirt above the thigh, removing her shoe.

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Now she indicates pain continues to improve.

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Of interest, despite an abundance of concern that low dose naltrexone [LDN] may flare her Multiple Sclerosis, we were easily able to increase the dose to triple what is usually called “LDN.” This did not flare her condition and may be one of the most effective medications she is taking for pain.

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What is LDN?

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The FDA has sanctioned its use in the USA only in doses of 50 to 400 mg for addiction to opioids and alcohol.

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Low dose naltrexone [LDN] is a fascinating medication. It has been used in low dose in persons with Multiple Sclerosis since 1985 when a Harvard trained neurologist in New York City, Dr. Bihari, first discovered that it relieved all disability in some patients with Multiple Sclerosis and prevented recurrent attacks. Since then, doctors in Scotland, where they have the highest incidence of Multiple Sclerosis, find that one of the earliest signs of recovery in this population is relief of neurogenic bladder. It is said that persons with Multiple Sclerosis must remain on LDN for 1.5 years before they might fully assess its value.

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 Multiple Sclerosis may be flared unless very small doses of LDN are used.

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Many with Mulitple Sclerosis cannot tolerate more than 2 or 3 mg, perhaps due to spasticity. There is a great deal of dogma on the web about its mechanism, dosing and timing for off label use. Use the search function on this site to review the prior discussions I posted on LDN, MS, CRPS.

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Naltrexone is a glial modulator.

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What’s that?!

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By serendipity, four years ago I discovered naltrexone in low dose may relieve chronic intractable pain. I had been using it for perhaps eight years in microgram doses but I found in milligram doses it is even more profound.

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The mechanism of naltrexone and a wee bit of glial research is discussed here. The Nobel Prize was awarded last year for the discovery that these glia are your innate immune system. They are profoundly important in many diseases including chronic pain, Major Depression, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimers, Parkinsons Disease, ALS, Autism. They produce inflammatory cytokines that lead to inflammation.

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Now that she has been home for two weeks, on a number of medications that I started, not just the ketamine and LDN, I hope she will comment on her experience and her progress since flying back to the east coast after her brief visit here.

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It is often essential to taper off opioids to allow other medication to work.

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I feel she was able to benefit from these low doses of medication because she tapered off all opioid medication prior to her visit, thus allowing her system to recover and respond to these medications. We will know more in the next few months as she slowly titrates up on some of the medications that were started.

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Next year on her return, we may be able to withdraw some of the medications depending on how well she is doing.

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Finally, ketamine does cause her to have brief side effects. Her husband likens the effect the same as half a glass of wine: “She’s really cute.” Thankfully, most people have no side effects and if they do, they rarely last more than 20 minutes.

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She sends an update below, 80 to 90% better. Hopefully this will continue to improve over the next months as she slowly increases the medication we started. And ketamine has an additive effect in some. It is anti-inflammatory.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.

It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

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Please understand that it is not legal for me to give medical advice without a consultation.

If you wish an appointment, please telephone my office or contact your local psychiatrist.

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For My Home Page, click here:  Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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RSD, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – a case report


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Severe Pain for Three Years,

 80% better in 10 days

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“This has been life altering.”

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This is a very bright young woman who was an all state volleyball player until onset of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome three years ago in the right hand and wrist. It began after blood was drawn from the hand for a chemistry study and, one week later, the fingers turned black, lost blood flow, followed by emergency surgery for removal of a blood clot from the back of her hand. She woke after surgery, tearing the sheet off due to intense pain on light touch — that is called allodynia — and then developed severe edema from the hand to the shoulder.

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It was four excruciating weeks before the diagnosis of complex regional pain syndrome was made.

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CRPS or RSD is a diagnosis that every MD,

every surgeon, every ER doctor,

every psychiatrist and psychologist, every nurse and therapist should know how to diagnose.

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Because she was a minor, they would not do nerve blocks.

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She developed contractures of the fingers and hand,

was unable to move the fingers.

  A major university hospital diagnosed Munchausen Syndrome;

mom was diagnosed with Munchausen’s by proxy.

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This happens so often. This is 2012.

If it’s not the doctors,

it’s the insurance companies

creating roadblocks to diagnosis or treatment or both.

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Why is pain management not taught at medical schools?

Only 3% of schools today give 30 hours instruction in four years, Yale most recently.

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At a major university hospital two hours away, she failed to respond to 14 stellate and brachial plexus blocks. But the wound reopened by itself, the stitch fell out. The psychiatry department evaluated her after she was so drugged with methadone, she does not even recall the interview. They diagnosed Munchausen Syndrome. That changed everything. Relationship went sour. Distrust of MD’s began and was confirmed many times in many places along the northeastern corridor and Texas.

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That fall, she became a student at the university of her dreams. The diagnosis of CRPS was confirmed at their university medical center hospital where they wanted to continue the same blocks that had failed. Elsewhere, the chief of a renowned ivy league university pain service wanted to talk to her only about spinal cord stimulators, declined by the family.

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In May 2010, she qualified for an NIH study of neurotropin double blind 6 weeks on, 6 weeks placebo. Failed.

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She was seen by Dr. Schwartzman in Philadelphia October 2011, and sent from there to NYC to rule out neuroma dorsum right hand, negative.

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On Lyrica, she gained 20 lbs, then back to 130 lbs baseline when off of Lyrica. Intolerance to Morphine – hives, Duragesic – total body itching. Ambien – hallucinations, Lunesta – hyper. Benadryl helped somewhat. Detoxing from Nucynta – lips were bright red.

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Her weight dropped from 130 to 115. Many medications were trialed and failed. Marinol helps pain slightly and gives the best sleep in years, better appetite. It does cause anxiety, but she had not slept in three years, and it gives 4 to 6 hours of good sleep. She developed sharp bitemporal headaches. I advised headache is a side effect of Pristiq —- now thankfully discontinued and better.

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Since August 2011, she has had CRPS pain in the right leg, worse walking, weight bearing.  There is discoloration of the dorsum hand usually, at times along proximal forearm, recently at right foot and leg. She had edema up to the shoulder measuring 30 cm. Nails growth faster at the right hand, possibly less hair growth right hand. Temperature usually cooler on the right hand, at times at night the hand and foot become hotter. No change in sweating noted.

The first year, she had almost total loss of function in the hand with pain and contractures —and forced herself to move the fingers with OT and PT, then home exercise. She still has days when the fingers remain flexed, but 98% of the time there is full movement as she continually tries to use the hand/fingers to write and type. Nose may become ice cold and tingly since CRPS spread to right side of face and right lower limb. At times tingling fingers. She struggles with memory when pain is severe and with lack of sleep.

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Pain ranges 7 to 10, average 8. Edema was significant for one year, now comes and goes. Allodynia is present hands and feet, now a different scale than before when she could not even be in the car.

However, with weight bearing and walking, pain of the right lower limb became most intense.  She will be 21 in July, but on a bad day was unable to leave her bedroom to walk downstairs as pain was too severe. She would communicate with family by loudly calling or texting. It was unthinkable to make plans for the next week due to severe pain. She has osteoporosis with atrophy of the right upper limb, and has had color changes and edema of the hand.

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She lives in an eastern state inland, two hours away from the mid Atlantic seaboard and major medical center. She failed ketamine infusion at a major university medical center on the east coast. The cost and inconvenience was significant and the family did not know that ketamine may fail to have any effect if taking opioid analgesics. Once mom discovered that, she was able to wean off the opioid medication. Ultimately, after many more interventions, much later, in crisis, she did benefit from IV ketamine infusion, and was able to regain some movement of her fingers on the right hand, but there was no lasting relief. It was a struggle to obtain approval through her insurance.

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She has been spending a great deal of time in bed for months. Morning stiffness is widespread for one to two hours. Bending is difficult, feels as if “hit by a bus,” but she does stretching, moving, distraction and Yoga when able.

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Much better in 10 days

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Day one: pain of the entire right side, face, trunk, limbs, rated 7 to 10 on a scale of 10, average 8. She guards the dominant right hand and the signature is difficult. Atrophy of the right upper limb is present, nails longer on the right hand, dusky dark erythema and long jagged scar over the dorsum right hand, mild erythema of the right upper and right lower limbs.

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On the first day, in the office, she tried the first dose of ketamine nasal spray and after a repeat dose, she was puzzled, thinking to herself, then let us know she realized she was able to concentrate. A small dose is not enough to relieve severe pain, but even major depression can vanish at that dose. Two sprays relieved the brain fog of depression; pain was still 8 on a scale of 10. Blood pressure and pulse did not change before and after doses. She felt hopeful.

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In the next few days she was able to do the unthinkable: make plans with friends, walk 45 minutes, become active, and remain active in a way that had not been possible. She was far more active with much less pain.  Over the weekend, six days after she arrived, after we had sequentially added several new medications, she found the dosage of nasal and sublingual ketamine that worked for her. She has actually had times when she was pain free. As noted during prior ketamine infusions, she requires a far higher dose than most patients to achieve effect. The plan now is to use higher doses at home when time permits for best effect, and booster sprays of nasal ketamine as needed when away from home. She can carry it in her pocket. There is no need for ICU infusions and the fight to get insurance coverage for those stays.

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Of great significance, she has even made plans for the entire summer.

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More details of her case will be added, as time permits. For now, this page is here to allow the patient and family and others to send comments. She will continue slow titration of other medications that will take three months before reaching the target dose, before we can assess efficacy. Based on my experience treating chronic intractable neuropathic pain including CRPS, it is possible these medications will be able to stabilize and relieve pain without ketamine.

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See other case reports of treatment of CRPS here, here, and here.

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You can read some of the science of pain, glia and inflammation. Ketamine is significantly anti-inflammatory. Three of her new medications are glial modulators. Treatment of severe chronic pain usually involves rational polypharmacy, not one medication and not medication alone. It requires a holistic approach to heal: P.T., O.T., massage, cognitive behavioral therapy, guided imagery, visualization, positive thinking, remaining active, and other modalities that depend upon the underlying cause: physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial. The treatment for CRPS is not specific for that condition alone, but the gains can be possible with tremendous discipline, effort, single minded determination and the loving support of friends and family.

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Be cautious of spinal cord stimulators. Try everything else first.

They can create pain and scarring or tether the spinal cord.

Be proactive.

Remember that guidelines and strategies for diagnosis and treatment are outdated.

Support RSDSA.org if you can.

They support high quality pain research.

You can go directly to their site or donate to them (not me)

using the link at the top of my site here.

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Patients and doctors do not understand that opioids create pain.

A 2006 publication from Vanderbilt shows how much better pain can be to taper off.

The abstract:

Significant pain reduction in chronic pain patients after detoxification from high-dose opioids.

The article:

Significant pain reduction in chronic pain patients after detoxification from high-dose opioids.

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More on this young woman’s journey coming.

It’s been busy!

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only,

and is not a substitute for medical advice,

diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

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Please understand that it is not legal for me to give medical advice without a consultation.

If you wish an appointment, you will need to telephone my office.

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For My Home Page, click here: 

Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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