Tag Archives: treatment

Working for the IPPF has been something I have been interested in doing for about five years, since my pemphigus vulgaris finally got under control. I knew from my first contact with the Foundation that this is an amazing group of people. I am proud of the way our community pulls together and rallies for each other; it’s amazing how we sincerely care about one another.

In the beginning of treating a bullous skin disease like pemphigus, prednisone is usually prescribed.  A high dosage over time, can be tapered down. While we are thrilled that the dosage is being lowered, the side effects of tapering can be debilitating.

It is safer to decrease the dosage by no more than 5mg per week. Tapering too quickly can either cause a flare-up or have you feeling like your muscles are rebelling.

If you abruptly stop taking prednisone or taper off too quickly, you might experience prednisone withdrawal symptoms: A gradual reduction in prednisone dosage gives your adrenal glands time to resume their normal function.

(1) http://www.mayoclinic.org/prednisone-withdrawal/expert-answers/faq-20057923

Essentially this is a drug that mimics your body’s natural hormones produced from the adrenal glands. When prescribed in significant doses, Prednisone works to help suppress inflammation. In the event that a person’s immune system is attacking its own tissues (as is the case with autoimmune diseases), this drug can help reduce activity by suppressing immune system functioning. It affects the “HPA” or hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis when taken longer than 7 days.

Side effects can include the following:  Abdominal pain, anxiety, body aches, decreased appetite, depression, dizziness, fatigue, fever, joint pain, mood swings, muscle soreness, nausea, weakness.  Not everyone experiences the same side effects, but these are the most common.

Taking an OTC (Over The Counter) pain relief can be helpful as well as taking in more salt and sugar that helps with low blood pressure and blood sugar.

(2) http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2014/06/10/prednisone-withdrawal-symptoms-how-long-do-they-last/

The body needs to keep moving although body aches can make you feel as if you don’t want to move!  What you can do is take walks at a leisurely pace until you are comfortable enough to step up the pace to a brisk walk.  Stretching every day is essential to keep your muscles flexible. Hurts,

But do what you can.  The price of being motionless is worse

if you don’t.  Your muscles will tighten and you’ll lose mobility.  A beginners yoga DVD can help you move in the beginning. Exercises in a pool help because the weight of the water pushes against you gently and cushions movement.

Meditation can help to sooth the nerves…keeping calm is very important anyway but especially when tapering because you more anxious than ever.  Listening to meditation music (Youtube if don’t have any) helps.  Talking to family members and closest friends helps too as they will understand if you seem moody or nervous.  The more you communicate, the more they can empathize and realize you need patience and humor from them!  Yes, laughter helps!

If you find that you are still having difficulty with body aches and pains and muscle weakness, consider asking your dermatologist for a referral for physical therapy.  Six visits are all you need to help you with exercises to keep you in motion and help you to get to feel better.

Remember, when you need us we will be in your corner!

It’s no secret among the pemphigus and pemphigoid (P/P) community that treatments to help these rare diseases are not always ideal. It’s also common for patients and caregivers to reach out to the IPPF seeking advice on holistic/natural/eastern medicines to treat P/P before the typically used western medicines recommended by physicians.

In a previous Coaches Corner I have given prednisone tips. It is a good time now for an update as there are new patients who are diagnosed and who are leery of the side effects that can come from taking a steroid treatment.

No one chooses to take prednisone as a medication.  However, it is used frequently for a variety of medical conditions, like pemphigus and pemphigoid (P/P). Prednisone is often used as the first line of defense against P/P. It works rather quickly and is effective in diminishing disease activity.

To learn more about prednisone, how it is used, what precautions to take before taking it, dietary suggestions, and side effects please go to this link from the U.S. Library of Medicine: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a601102.html

A few of the side effects from taking prednisone can be:

Headache, dizziness, difficulty, falling asleep or staying asleep, extreme changes in mood, changes in the way fat is spread around the body, extreme tiredness, weak muscles, and more.

Some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:

vision problems, eye pain, redness, or tearing, sore throat, fever, chills, cough, or other signs of infection, depression, upset stomach, lightheadedness, shortness of breath(especially during the night), swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, throat, arms, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs, difficulty breathing or swallowing.

Please note that not everyone experiences every side effect and that even taking treatments like aspirin can come with side effects.  Everyone has his or her own unique physiological makeup. Therefore, while experiences with prednisone may be similar, they are not exactly alike.

Remember, when you need us we are in your corner!

When you decide to take a trip outside of the state where you live it is a wise idea to make sure that you have enough medications with you to last the length of your trip.

Important information to keep on you while traveling: a medical identification card and insurance card. It is important to have a medical identification card on you to show all pertinent information regarding your condition and all other conditions that you may have. You can purchase blank medical information cards at your local drug store, and fill them out with your medical information (Example Medical Information Card). It is important that you list all of the medication that you are taking to treat your pemphigus, pemphigoid, or any other illnesses to let medical professionals know, so that they don’t put you on any treatments that could counteract what you are currently taking.

If you have a smartphone (iPhone, Android, etc.) that has a health app (example: iPhone Health App) I suggest you fill it out. You can list medical conditions, allergies, medications (name of drug and dosage), doctor(s), emergency contacts, organ donor status, weight, height, and more! Having this information filled out can be very helpful to you at all times, but can be especially helpful during traveling if anything were to happen.

I also suggest that if you are traveling within the U.S. that you keep the IPPF referral list with you. If you are in another state and experience a flare you may need to see a doctor that knows how to treat pemphigus & pemphigoid.  By having the list with you, you can find a potential doctor to help treat you.

Remember, if you have questions to “Ask a Coach” because when you need us we are in your corner!

Having a flare after being in remission can be a scary and frustrating experience. Thoughts run through your head about your previous experiences and you may wonder if your disease will be as bad as it was before. When you have the flare, it is important to recognize it and take the challenge head-on. It’s easy to become stressed from the uncertainty and lack of control, but remember that stressing will only make things worse. Here are some tips to reduce the intensity and time that you may have the flare.

1.      Schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately.

2.      Have your doctor give you a clinical diagnosis or get a biopsy done to confirm the flare. There are many differential diagnoses for your disease so you want to be sure it is what you suspect.

3.      Discuss with your doctor a treatment strategy and begin right away.

4.      Track your disease activity in a log, this will help you determine if you condition is improving.

5.      Follow up with your doctor regularly and advocate for yourself. Seeing your doctor every 4-6 weeks is recommended. If you have an aggressive flare you may need to see your doctor more frequently.

6.      If you need support, contact the IPPF and talk with a Peer Health Coach. Coaches are available to answer questions and help you decide how to best handle your flare.

It is common for flares not to be as intense as your first experience with the disease, but all patients have different experiences. The important thing is to be proactive and stabilize the disease activity as soon as possible. Flares are part of living with pemphigus and pemphigoid but if they are handled quickly and with a positive attitude you can eliminate them sooner.

Remember, if you have questions to “Ask a Coach” because when you need us we are in your corner!

Results So Far

I had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Williams on July 17, 2014, one month after my first infusion and two weeks after the second. She looked at me and I swear her jaw dropped. She was amazed by how well I had responded. That was a fun appointment!

Jack Sherman 7

She had consulted Dr. Anhalt shortly before my treatment. Dr. Anhalt suggested going off of azathioprine a month after my second infusion (August 1), and to start a slow prednisone taper. I asked Dr. Williams if I should stop taking azathioprine now, two weeks before we were planning. We agreed I should stop taking it. One drug down!

Since then I haven’t taken azathioprine. Better yet, I’ve been on a continual prednisone taper. I started on 25 milligrams every other day. A week later, on July 23, 2014 (three weeks after my second infusion) I took these pictures. I was completely lesion free! I was ecstatic to say the least. This far exceeded my wildest dreams!

In January 2014 I am down to 2 milligrams of prednisone, every other day! This is the lowest dosage of prednisone I have ever been on. The best news is my skin is completely void of lesions. Sure I’ve had one or two minor ones, but nothing that doesn’t clear up quickly. Pretty amazing considering where I started.

I’m not claiming remission — yet! While it’s easy to be confident about my recovery, I prefer to say I’m very optimistic about my future living with pemphigus. What I have learned over the years about this disease is things can change pretty quickly. I could end up in total remission, or I could end up needing another round of Rituximab. Either way, I believe I will be better off than had I not opted for rituximab. For that I’m very grateful!

 Continued Support and Education

Each individual is just that, an individual. These diseases aren’t like more common diseases, like Type II Diabetes. If you go to 10 doctors after a diabetes diagnoses you will probably hear the same thing and expect the same results. With pemphigus and pemphigoid being rare, ultra orphan autoimmune diseases, your results and advice will likely vary.

Even though I’m a Peer Health Coach, Marc Yale has continued to be my coach. I can’t thank him enough for his time, knowledge and support he’s given me over the years. My goal is to help patients like Marc has helped me, and share this knowledge with them each and every day. Reach out to the IPPF and use its wealth of knowledge and patient resources. If you can attend the IPPF Patient Conference, I encourage you – I implore you – to go. The information and fellowship really does make a difference!

In the end, my biggest piece of advice to you is to be proactive in you care and treatment. Work with your physicians and create a team committed to your success. Share what you learn from your coach, attending a conference, or from a conference call with your doctor. Ask them to contact the IPPF who will connect them with a P/P expert. Whatever you do, it’s your health and quality of life at stake, so make informed, educated decisions. I did and couldn’t be happier!

Good luck, and good health to you all!

Part One
Part Two

Time for the Infusion

As the treatment drew near, I had a lot of questions for Dr. Williams. She felt an oncologist was better equipped to answer them, so she scheduled a consult with one. That was a great move. The oncologist answered all my questions. He said prescribing and administering Rituxamab is an everyday occurrence for the infusion room. He said they give this treatment to leukemia and lymphoma patients who are in very poor health. Since I was in relatively good health, his concerns of complications for me were minimal. That was reassuring.

I had to do a lot of lab tests, which is common for intravenous treatments affecting the immune system. I was tested for several types of hepatitis, HIV, TB, and other infectious ailments. You can see from my “before” picture how bad my skin was.

I was treated using the Rheumatoid Arthritis Protocol (1,000 mg intravenously on days 1 and 15). My first dose was administered on June 17, 2014 and lasted 6 hours; the second on July 1, 2014, lasted 4 hours. I was relieved that other than a little jitteriness caused by a steroid drip, I had absolutely no side effects or reactions. It literally felt like I was getting a routine saline solution infusion.

Jack Sherman 4 Jack Sherman 3

When I went in for my second infusion, there was no change in my disease activity. I didn’t expect to see any changes for at least a month. To my surprise, as you can see by this photograph comparison, I was seeing signs of improvement a week after my second infusion! I was still taking 250 milligrams of azathioprine and 25 milligrams of prednisone every other day.

Jack Sherman 6 Jack Sherman 5

Stay tuned for next week’s conclusion of Jack Sherman’s Road to Rituximab Story…

Part One
Part Three

Many times when seeing a physician for pemphigus or pemphigoid they are quick to prescribe a systemic treatment that will hopefully help you reach remission. This can be a good thing. However, sometimes the obvious may be overlooked.  For example, if you are in pain,  having trouble eating or swallowing, your clothes are sticking to your lesions, the blisters on your scalp make bathing and showering difficult, or perhaps you are having chronic nosebleeds. These symptoms can be managed with topical treatments, but they are often forgotten. There are different options available for different body locations in many different strengths. Be candid with your doctor and let them know where you are having disease activity and how severe it is. Although, ultimately, the systemic treatment is going to make the difference in the long run.  Topical treatment can help relieve many of your symptoms along the way!

If you’re not sure which medications to ask for or their strengths, just “Ask a Coach”!

Remember, when you need us we are in your corner!

664715_11160870-pillRare diseases, including several autoimmune disorders, are getting more attention from drug-makers, according to a new report by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a consortium of 36 US-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. In 2012 alone, 13 drugs for orphan diseases (“orphan drugs”) were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Approximately 452 medicines and vaccines are in development for the nearly 7,000 orphan diseases worldwide.

orphan diseases are defined as diseases with fewer than 200,000 patients. In total, however, across the nearly 7,000 orphan diseases, 30 million people in the US, or about 10% of the population, are affected by an orphan disease. The pemphigus and pemphigoid (P/P) diseases are considered “ultra-orphan” diseases because they are extremely rare. It is estimated there are only about 50,000 new P/P cases each year worldwide, with only a few thousand of those being in the US.

Rare diseases tend to be more complex than common diseases, meaning that there are a number of factors that combine to cause disease. In the case of P/P, while there seem to be genetic risk factors, how these contribute, singularly or in combination, and to what extent the environment (like diet and other conditions that are present) also contributes is not well understood.

Somewhat fortuitously, complex diseases represent the next great frontier for drug developers. Having tapped into the ‘simpler’ diseases, making great strides in treatment of conditions like high cholesterol, these ‘low-hanging fruit’, as drug-makers like to call them, have been consumed. It is truly a time of paradigm-shifting mentality among drug makers.

That said, the costs of developing new medicines is extremely high, so companies must make their choices wisely. If we were to calculate the amount that pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies spend on research and development yearly and compare that to the number of drugs that are approved for clinical use by the FDA each year, the cost per successful drug is a staggering $1.2 billion. It’s not difficult to imagine, then, why companies aimed at developing new drugs are most interested in those that can recoup these huge costs — for instance, by developing drugs for very common conditions and risk factors such as diabetes and high cholesterol. As well, given the complex nature of rare diseases, they are not necessarily among the ‘low-hanging fruit’ that some diseases represent.

To incentivize companies to prioritize new drugs for rare conditions, they may apply for orphan drug status through the FDA, a result of passage of the Orphan Drug Act (ODA) of 1983. With this status, a drug receives seven years of market exclusivity. Market exclusivity is particularly appealing to companies developing drugs because the seven-year exclusivity period differs from laws applicable to other drugs in that it does not begin until the drug is approved by the FDA approval.

The ODA is considered a resounding success. Since its inception, there have been more than 400 medicines approved for a total of 447 orphan diseases. As well, there are hundreds of new medicines in development, including an impressive list available in the PhRMA 2013 report (phrma.org/sites/default/files/pdf/Rare_Diseases_2013.pdf).

While not all of the 452 orphan drugs in development will be approved for patient use, this is certainly a lot of activity. A search of the list included within the PhRMA report, as well as a search of clinicaltrials.gov (that lists all clinical trials in progress), shows a handful of drugs in testing for conditions related to or directed at P/P.

There are 18 new orphan drugs in phase I-III trials (there are three phases of clinical trials and drugs must pass all of them, indicating reasonable levels of safety and meaningful efficacy-effectiveness in treating the condition) that are indicated for autoimmune disorders.

New drugs are not the only source of treatment for disease. Another source is to use an existing drug, developed for another condition, for a different indication. Such is the case with Rituxan® (rituximab), which was originally developed for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In that disease, B cells of the immune system bearing a marker called CD20 (thus the name CD20+ B cells) have gone awry.

Since P/P shares this hallmark, Rituxan® has been successfully used ‘off-label’ for P/P. It is an antibody-based drug, which requires it to be injected into the patient. In general, any drug that acts as a suppressor of the immune system (immunosuppressant) is a potential candidate for treating a range of auto-immune conditions, including P/P. CellCept® (mycophenolate mofetil), another immune system suppressor that was developed for transplant patients to help prevent the body’s rejection of the ‘foreign’ organ, has recently been approved for use in P/P.

Besides the high cost of developing new drugs, companies that seek treatments for orphan diseases face difficulty in finding enough patients to participate. Indeed, patients tend to be dispersed geographically and may include small children. Physicians and patients who are interested in participating in trials or gaining more information should visit clinicaltrials.org.

Within the P/P community, the IPPF is also a great resource for learning about clinical trials. Members of our medical advisory board serve as investigators on trials and being in our patient database could lead to a company reaching out to you about participating in a trial.

For instance, among the new drugs aimed at treating P/P, drug-maker Novartis is studying VAY736, an antibody-based drug aimed at another B cell marker called BAFF-R. The study is in a very early stage and should be recruiting patients soon.

The time is ripe for development of new drugs for complex orphan diseases. The surge in new medicines in the first 30 years since the ODA should accelerate as less ‘low-hanging fruit’ exist for companies developing new drugs.