Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fibromuscular Dysplasia

Well, it turns out I may not have had a kidney infarction after all. There had been continuous confusion amongst the many doctors involved as to whether I had an infarction (from a clot) or an infection (from unknown cause) in my right kidney. The key thing I understood at the beginning was that I had one small kidney artery that was completely blocked, killing 5% of that kidney, and another small artery right next to it that was partially blocked. The blockages were either from a clot of blood or cholesterol or from an infection. An angiogram showed no sign of an existing clot, so if that was the cause, it had dissolved by then. I was put on an antibiotic in case I had an infection, but that didn't change anything. The early prognosis was that I would be fine with such a small loss of kidney tissue, that I would take an anti-coagulant the rest of my life to ward off any more potential blood clots, continue to watch my cholesterol levels, and the pain should be gone in a few weeks.

Except the pain never left. It subsided for awhile, then got worse a while, then better, and so on, but never left. I was out of work that whole time, as the pain was generally more than enough to require medication that interfered with my ability to think, which is what I get paid for. Had I not taken the pain medication, the pain would have been too much to think, so either way, I wasn't much good for working. Last week the pain improved to the point that I thought was ready to resume working and I got a note from my kidney doctor allowing me to return. At that visit, my kidney doctor reviewed with me everything he knew from all the tests. That included something I hadn't been told about before: there were some partial blockages in the main artery feeding my right kidney, and it was determined (by their size, shape, location, etc.) that they were caused by Fibromuscular Dysplasia (FMD). The kidney doctor still didn't know what caused the full and partial blockages in the smaller arteries, as things didn't quite fit the normal characteristics of either infarction or infection.

Then I found out my company and the insurance company require a note from my general practitioner, so I had to wait until next week. Then a couple of nights ago, the pain got really bad again, and my blood pressure went high (around 160/110) and stayed there. Although the pain backed off a little, the BP stayed up, and my kidney doctor called in a prescription for Diovan to bring my BP down. After a day or so of that, my BP is back down. In the meantime, I've been studying FMD.

FMD is a rare disease. Really. There's actually a list of rare diseases, and FMD is one of them. And there's a support site on the Internet run by doctors and patients, and information from FMD doctors indicates that FMD is not well recognized or understood by doctors. Patient stories support the idea that most doctors are not familiar with it.

Basically FMD results in some cells in the walls of arteries growing larger than they should, constricting the flow of blood through the artery, eventually blocking it off altogether. No one knows what causes FMD, though genes and hormones both seems to be factors. There's no cure, but the symptoms can be treated with anti-coagulates and angioplasty. Most people who are familiar with angioplasty have heard of it because they know someone who had it to open up an artery around their heart. That common usage means someone gets an angioplasty once every few years or less often. Some people with FMD get angioplasty several times a year. FMD can effect any artery in the body, with the kidneys being the most common, and the carotid arteries being the second most common.

So, I've come up with a theory, which I wrote up and faxed to my kidney specialist yesterday. He called me late last night to tell me he had been in hospitals all day and had not had time to read the letter yet, so I'm hoping to hear from him next Tuesday. I have an appointment with my general practitioner on Wednesday, and I'll discuss this with her then. My theory is that I had neither an infarction nor an infection, but that both are the results of FMD. There is a form of FMD called intimal fibroplasia that comprises less than 10% of FMD cases, but it appears to me it fits perfectly with the full and partial blockages I have in my smaller kidney arteries. It seems to me to explain everything, including my continuing and fluctuating pain, and I really like understanding things. If I'm right, however, it's bad news, because this form of FMD is the most aggressive.

Well, as Bill Gates famously said, it's good when bad news travels fast. That's because the sooner you learn of something bad, the sooner you can do something about it. So, I have FMD. I may have the most aggressive kind. Since I know, my doctors and I can more aggressively monitor my arteries and intervene with angioplasty as often as necessary. And that could give me months or years more than I might have left if we hadn't figured it out.

Whenever I have more news, and feel like posting, without being to unintelligent due to pain medication, I'll post followups here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Big Setback

I was sure my next training run of 5k was going to be the first time in over 20 years I'd be able to run that distance without having to stop and walk part of the way. I was just a day or two away.

Then I had a kidney infarction and lost 5% of my right kidney. That was weeks ago, and I haven't stopped hurting yet. Quit doing everything, including eating, and have lost 20 pounds, so I'm down to just over 130 pounds. Haven't weighed that little since high school.

Well, two weeks ago I start walking again, very slow, very short distances. I got to where I can walk to the Metro station again, and took a short test ride. Subway trains are way bumpier than cars, if you didn't know, and the shaking is really tough. Since then I've ridden all the way downtown twice. It made me hurt worse for awhile, but within a day it got back to the same level of hurting it was at before the train ride. I sure am looking forward to running again. And working again. And doing other things again. Especially running.