Kathryn Watson

4 Things Having M.S. Has Taught Me About Love and Relationships

4 Things Having M.S. Has Taught Me About Love and Relationships

There were so many things my ex wanted to do that I just couldn’t participate in. I started to feel like I was a burden to him. As I think about the situation now, this might have been more based on the way I felt about my health than anything he actually said or did. We were living apart before our sixth wedding anniversary and signed divorce papers about a year after that.I had loved my ex-husband, and I still do love him for the person he is. He just isn’t my person.After that experience, I decided I would never get married again. But life still had quite a few things to teach me about relationships.The right person won’t get hung up on your diagnosis.On my first night out post-divorce, I met my now partner, Adam. I was sitting at a bar in Manhattan, waiting for my friend to arrive, when we struck up a conversation. He made a joke about how drinking beer means more trips to the bathroom, and I quickly decided to tell him I had M.S. I thought he might shut down and never want to see me again, but I figured if that was going to happen, it would be better to know right away than to keep talking to him.So I blurted out the truth: “I use catheters because M.S. means I can’t control my bladder.”Adam shrugged. “Okay. Is there anything I need to do?”I couldn’t believe how casual he was being. “Well, no.”“Okay.” He said. “So? Isn’t that kind of like needing glasses to see?” He smiled and ordered us another round of beers.After my marriage ended, I continued to worry that no one would ever want me or love me because of my condition. It came as a shock when Adam thought it was one of the less notable things about me. Maybe the world could be a kinder, or at least more accepting, place than I was imagining. Maybe I could at least give people more of a chance to accept me, M.S. and all.You can still have a love story with M.S.I told Adam about the divorce and that I wasn’t looking for anything serious. But by our third date, he said, “You can do whatever you want, but we’re going to end up being together. That’s just the way it is.”From that moment on, we were inseparable. We very quickly started spending every night together. He officially moved into my Brooklyn apartment about two years into our relationship, but we really only spent about 10 nights apart from the night of our first kiss.I was so scared to make a mistake again and commit to the wrong person, but I couldn’t deny the connection we had. And every time Adam put his arm around me, it felt like a protective barrier—like it was us against the rest of the world. He was also hilarious. We shared a sense of humor from that first meeting at the bar, and to this day, no time we spend together is lacking in laughter.

Here’s What’s Actually Causing Your Eczema

Here’s What’s Actually Causing Your Eczema

If you deal with eczema, you know how challenging it can be to resist the urge to scratch those unbearably itchy patches on your skin. Sure, scratching might give you some short-term relief but you know it will only make you feel worse in the long run. Eczema can be difficult to manage and you’ve probably wondered on more than one occasion what causes eczema. But first, it’s important to understand what eczema is.There are different types of eczema, but atopic dermatitis is the most common form, affecting about 10% of the U.S. population, according to the National Eczema Society. Eczema is most often diagnosed in children, but plenty of adults have it too. In fact, as many as one in four people with eczema may be diagnosed in adulthood, and that number appears to be on the rise, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.1While receiving an eczema diagnosis is pretty common, getting to the bottom of what causes eczema is not so clear-cut. Researchers are still working to understand the disease’s exact mechanism; in the meantime, there’s plenty they do know about possible eczema causes and what triggers flare-ups. Here, dermatologists break down everything you need to know.First, what are the most common eczema symptoms?Before we talk about all the possible reasons you have eczema, it’s good to recognize the signs and symptoms. Eczema tends to affect the folds of the skin, including the bends of the elbows and knees, ankles, wrists, eyelids, and the back of the neck. According to the Mayo Clinic, common eczema symptoms can include:Dry, itchy skinInflammation on the skin that may appear red, purple, or brownishRaw, cracked, swollen, or scaly skinSmall, raised bumpsWhile you may experience one or all of these symptoms, it’s important to note that eczema can present differently from person to person depending on your skin tone. “Different ethnic populations have different presentations and patterns of eczema,” Azeen Sadeghian, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, tells SELF. For example, if you have a deeper skin tone, your inflammation may take on a violet or purple color (instead of looking pink or red as it typically would in lighter skin tones). And over time, you may also see some skin discoloration if your eczema is left untreated.What’s more, Black people will sometimes develop eczema on the outside of the forearms or elbows as opposed to the inside folds of the skin, Dr. Sadeghian notes. Follicular accentuation—where the skin around hair follicles becomes pronounced and bumpy—is also a more common symptom in darker skin tones. These important nuances can sometimes present challenges when it comes to diagnosing skin conditions in people of color. Back to topWhat causes eczema?The underlying causes of eczema are complicated, Dr. Sadeghian says: “Our skin cells are normally like a brick wall barrier that’s covered with a varnish to protect it.” But when someone has eczema, this metaphorical varnish doesn’t function the way it should, leaving the bricks—or in this case, skin cells—more vulnerable to an invasion.As a result, your skin becomes highly sensitized to any irritant, allergen, or environmental factor that might compromise it. And, as Dr. Sadeghian explains, any damage done to your skin barrier causes more inflammatory cells to gather in the affected area, creating a chain reaction that plays out in the form of eczema.Researchers don’t know why some people are more susceptible to eczema than others but, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, the following factors can increase your risk:Family historyGenetics is a big determining factor for whether or not you will develop eczema. “If it runs in your family, you’re more likely to get it,” Amy Kassouf, MD, a Cleveland Clinic-affiliated, board-certified dermatologist who practices in Twinsburg, Ohio, tells SELF. A study published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy that followed 4,089 newborns until age four found that 27% of the babies with parents who had eczema developed the condition. Among children who had one parent with eczema, nearly 38% were diagnosed, and when both parents had eczema, 50% of the children ended up having it.2Genetic mutationsIn 2020, a study published in Nature Communications showed that two relatively common variations in a specific gene (the KIF3A gene to be exact) may lead to a weakened skin barrier, which then allows for increased water loss from your skin.3 The researchers theorized that these gene variations make people who have them more prone to developing eczema, per the National Institutes of Health.A protein deficiencyMore than half of people who have eczema may have low levels of a protein called filaggrin, according to the National Eczema Society. Filaggrin acts as a natural moisturizer that helps your skin fend off pathogens (like a virus, bacteria, or other microorganisms). Going back to the brick wall analogy, people whose bodies don’t manufacture enough filaggrin will be more vulnerable to immune system invaders and less protected by their skin.Dry skinDry skin is one of the primary culprits that cause eczema. “Your skin is meant to be a barrier to the outside world. But sometimes it starts to break down, either because of its inability to lubricate itself or because you’re not moisturizing or hydrating enough,” Dr. Kassouf says. Some people have skin that’s naturally prone to dryness, while others have skin that grows dry due to repeated exposure to harsh chemicals or irritants.AllergiesAllergies don’t cause eczema, but these two conditions are closely related. Eczema is often found in people who also have hay fever and asthma, Dr. Kassouf says, forming what medical professionals call the atopic triad. In this disease progression, known as the atopic march, infants and young children will develop eczema symptoms, and then later progress to have asthma and allergic rhinitis. Researchers, who published a 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical and Cellular Immunology, hypothesized that the weakened skin barrier could be the reason infants with eczema become young adults with allergies.4

Here’s What to Expect Before, During, and After a Colonoscopy

Here’s What to Expect Before, During, and After a Colonoscopy

If anyone in your family has had colon cancer, or if you’re nearing the age of 45, you’ve probably already been told about the importance of scheduling a colonoscopy. You may even have grown tired of your doctor telling you that it’s something you need to consider.But the prospect of having your bowels explored on camera doesn’t exactly have most people running to book an appointment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than half of adults in their early 50s have had a colonoscopy or any type of colorectal cancer screening.This is bad news because colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States. A colonoscopy—a procedure doctors use as a tool to diagnose and screen conditions of the colon—is particularly useful for its early diagnosis. When colon cancer is found in its early stages, the five-year survival rate is 90%, according to the American Cancer Society.Unfortunately, four out of 10 cases of colon cancer are found when cancer has already spread to other areas of the body. Rates of colon cancer are also rising significantly in younger people, according to 2020 statistics published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.1 That’s why, beginning in 2016, the American Cancer Society recommends anyone with average risk to start screening for colon cancer at age 45, or sometimes earlier depending on personal health history.Colon cancer isn’t the only condition that a colonoscopy can catch, though. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, both autoimmune conditions that fall under the umbrella of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), can be detected with this test. If you’ve already been diagnosed with one of these conditions, you do have an increased risk of colon cancer, so getting regular screenings is especially important, according to a 2018 study published in the journal Clinics of Colon and Rectal Surgery.2SELF spoke with doctors who perform colonoscopies to give us the details on what they wish people knew about this potentially life-saving screening procedure.What is a colonoscopy, exactly?A colonoscopy basically is what it sounds like: a camera (scope) on a flexible rod explores your large and small intestine, looking for inflammation and pre-cancerous lesions called polyps that can grow on your intestinal walls, Matthew Bechtold, MD, a practicing gastroenterologist and professor of clinical medicine at the University of Missouri, tells SELF.“The whole idea of screening is to prevent colon cancer from forming,” Dr. Bechtold says. “With screening, you can go in and take out these polyps or growths. Those polyps would otherwise likely grow into colon cancer over five to 15 years. So that’s why we want to go in there, find them, and take them out before they even have a chance of becoming colon cancer.”If a polyp is spotted during the course of a colonoscopy, it gets removed and retrieved for further testing. If you do have one (or a few) removed, don’t worry. Polyps are common, and many found during a colonoscopy are later determined to be benign, according to a 2016 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology.3Colonoscopies are also the go-to diagnostic test for conditions that affect your lower bowel, including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and others. Your doctor might take a biopsy—remove a small piece of tissue—in your colon, which will then be looked at closely in a lab. They’ll check for signs of inflammation or changes associated with IBD.Back to topWhen should you get a colonoscopy?The answer varies, but in general, if you are considered “average” risk of colon cancer—that is, you don’t have a history of bowel disease, a family history, or symptoms of concern, such as abdominal pain—it is advised that you get your first colonoscopy at or around age 45, says Keri Pinnock, MD, a gastroenterologist at Austin Regional Clinic in Texas.Dr. Pinnock adds that if you have a history of colon cancer in your immediate family—that means a parent or sibling—you may be recommended to start getting screened earlier. “If your family member was diagnosed before 60, the guidelines are that you are recommended to have a colonoscopy at age 40 or ten years prior to the age that that family member was diagnosed with colon cancer, whichever is sooner,” she says.

Here’s How Pancolitis Really Affects Your Digestive System

Here’s How Pancolitis Really Affects Your Digestive System

If you’re a fan of linguistics, you might know that the word “colitis” can refer to any type of inflammatory reaction that happens in your colon. “Pan” is simply a descriptor used to refer to an organ in its entirety. When you put it all together, “pancolitis” is chronic inflammation that impacts your entire colon, or large intestine. One of the main causes of pancolitis is ulcerative colitis (U.C.). Sometimes you’ll see this term used to describe advanced U.C. that affects—you guessed it—the entire colon, but U.C. isn’t the only condition that can lead to pancolitis.Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), along with Crohn’s disease, that causes inflammation in the lining of your colon. It’s autoimmune-related (meaning your immune system attacks cells in your colon) and can cause tough-to-deal-with symptoms like bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and unintentional weight loss.When ulcerative colitis does affect your entire colon, pain and other symptoms can be quite severe—you may even run a fever. If the inflammation isn’t managed, it can even increase your chances of developing complications. Non-ulcerative colitis causes of pancolitis include bacterial infection, medications, and other problems with blood supply to the colon (more on this later).If you’ve been recently diagnosed with pancolitis or if you’re concerned that you may have this condition, you probably have a lot of questions. We spoke with two gastroenterologists to get answers about pancolitis diagnosis, symptoms, treatment options, and more.First, let’s talk about the digestive system.Because pancolitis is a term that involves where inflammation is happening in the digestive tract, it’s pretty important to understand what that means in terms of anatomy. Here’s a quick refresher: First up is your mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach, all of which enable you to eat, swallow, and begin to break down your food. (You’re probably pretty familiar with these).Next comes the small intestine, which further digests your food, and helps absorb nutrients and vitamins into your bloodstream. The small intestine then delivers what remains of your food into your large intestine, also called your bowel or colon. When a stool is ready to be released, it makes its descent into the sigmoid colon (the lowest, S-shaped portion of your bowel) and makes its exit through your rectum, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).The colon is where people with ulcerative colitis can run into some digestive trouble. The colon’s lining is called its epithelium, and it regenerates and repairs itself constantly. The colon’s epithelium absorbs nutrients as it creates the waste product we know as stool, feces, or its most popular name “poop.” When the epithelium becomes inflamed (whether due to IBD, bacterial infection, or other issues), the colon can’t complete the absorption process normally (cue the diarrhea).1Back to topHow is pancolitis connected to ulcerative colitis?To understand pancolitis as it relates to ulcerative colitis, we have to see where it lands on the “spectrum of disease,” David Schwimmer, MD, a gastroenterologist in Sarasota, Florida, tells SELF. Ulcerative colitis is a general diagnostic term for chronic, inflammatory bowel disease affecting your colon. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different types, according to the Mayo Clinic:Ulcerative proctitis: This is the mildest form of ulcerative colitis, which Dr. Schwimmer explains is inflammation that only affects your rectum, the few inches closest to your anus. Rectal bleeding may be the only symptom you experience.Proctosigmoiditis: This is inflammation that affects both the rectum and the sigmoid colon, which is the lower end of the colon. This is where you may start to get those classic symptoms of ulcerative colitis, like bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and an urge that you have to go now.Left-sided colitis: In this scenario, the inflammation affects everything from the rectum to the descending colon on the left side of your body. In addition to the previously mentioned symptoms, you may feel pain specifically on the left side of your abdomen.Pancolitis: This is where the inflammation impacts your entire colon lining, and in addition to having more severe symptoms, you may also have fatigue and unintentional weight loss.

How 4 People With Multiple Sclerosis Stay Active Day-to-Day

How 4 People With Multiple Sclerosis Stay Active Day-to-Day

Of course, the reality of this will look different from person to person. If you’re dealing with MS symptoms that are so severe they inhibit your ability to be physically active, that’s also perfectly valid. Working with your treatment team may help you figure out how to best manage symptoms so you can add more movement back into your life.3. Set long-term, incremental movement goals.Bree Alvarez, 38, a high school teacher and Zumba instructor in California, was diagnosed with MS six years ago. Now she’s training for her fifth marathon.“Setting a goal was definitely first on my list,” she says. “Once I set my mind to it, I knew it was going to be done.” At her first neurology appointment, she spoke with her doctor about changes to her diet and exercise routine that could help her get in better physical shape, and she committed to her first half-marathon not long afterward. By working toward a big goal, she was able to make small changes and establish momentum in her workout routines.Binns has had a similar strategy in the past. She remembers a time in her disease progression when her symptoms confined her to a scooter. Even when she temporarily lost some of her mobility, she stayed committed to strengthening her legs. To help make this more achievable, she made various lifestyle changes, like reducing foods that may be linked to inflammation, such as dairy, and switching to medications that further controlled her symptoms. She says she was then able to build stamina week after week with the goal of leaving the scooter behind—and it worked. “It’s nothing for me now to walk a mile in the evening with my husband,” Binns says.4. Choose exercise that you enjoy.If you don’t like the exercise that you’re doing, you won’t be motivated to continue it. This may be especially true when you are using exercise to try to slow the progress of a chronic condition like MS. Binns puts it this way: “When somebody tells you what to do and it doesn’t feel right, you tend not to be as compliant with doing it. But if you determine what your body really needs and what feels right to it, you’re going to stick with that because it feels good.”That’s why Courtney Platt, 33, has kept dancing, her professional and personal first love. Platt (who, yes, is related to Dear Evan Hansen’s Ben Platt) says that the first question she asked her neurologist when she was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago was whether she would be able to keep dancing. Fortunately, that doctor understood that dancing wasn’t just a physical outlet for Courtney, but a mental and spiritual one, too. “Her answer was, ‘You should never stop dancing—it keeps your body, mind, and soul strong,’” Platt says.“Whether it is in my living room, on a stage, or in a gym, staying active is one of my top priorities—not just for my physical health, but also for my mental health,” Platt says. A former contestant on So You Think You Can Dance, Platt now teaches vertical climbing fitness classes from her home in addition to continuing to tour, act, and perform.

Here’s How Genital Psoriasis Can Affect Your Life

Here’s How Genital Psoriasis Can Affect Your Life

The social stigma of psoriasis isn’t what it used to be. Celebrities with this inflammatory skin condition have stepped up to become much more vocal about how psoriasis affects them, and, in turn, more people understand that psoriasis isn’t contagious or something to be feared. What’s not so readily talked about is the fact that psoriasis can affect more than the skin that’s visible to others—yes, we’re talking about the genitals. Research suggests 63% of people with psoriasis will have symptoms on and around their genital area during their lifetime, according to a 2018 study published in the journal Dermatologic Therapy.1 There is also a small percentage of people with psoriasis who see plaques only on their genitals. Genital psoriasis (sometimes called penile psoriasis, vaginal psoriasis, or vulvar psoriasis) can occur in any age group. It can also affect any skin type and skin color.Despite all of this, some people continue to have huge misgivings about discussing genital psoriasis, even feeling hesitant about showing it to their dermatologist. But, it’s really important that you do if this is something that affects you. From the physical side of things to the mental side, this condition can have a huge impact on your self-esteem and your relationships. Here’s everything you should know.What is psoriasis in general?Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that impacts at least 8 million people in the United States alone, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. When you have psoriasis, your immune system speeds up your body’s production of skin cells. This leads to a buildup of dead cells on your skin’s surface, and that buildup turns into red, gray, or purple plaques that may burn or itch. How psoriasis looks depends on your skin tone, with lesions appearing red, pink, or salmon-colored on lighter skin tones, and purple or gray-ish on darker skin tones.These areas, also called plaques, often show up on your scalp, elbows, and knees, but they can appear pretty much anywhere on your body. Plaques are typically described as “scaly,” meaning that they feel hard to the touch and peel away from the skin.Psoriasis flares are driven by inflammation that’s happening in your body. That means that while plaques are the most visible symptom of psoriasis, they certainly aren’t the only symptom. Psoriasis is linked to other inflammatory conditions, including psoriatic arthritis, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Anais Brasilieros de Dermatologia.2The severity of psoriasis is often assessed according to how much of your body area is covered with plaques. You can have what’s considered “mild to moderate” psoriasis but still feel like your symptoms have a serious impact on you. The clinical diagnosis of your psoriasis and how much it affects you are two different things. That’s why it’s important to consider the mental health aspects of having psoriasis. According to an older study published in the journal Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 75% of people with psoriasis say that the condition has had a moderate to large negative impact on their life, including interfering with daily activities.3Back to topWhat types of psoriasis can affect the genitals?There are several different types of psoriasis, and the categorization is based on how the plaques appear on your skin. All of them can affect the nether regions, however, inverse psoriasis and plaque psoriasis are the two types most likely to impact the genital area, Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Manhattan and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, tells SELF.Inverse psoriasis takes the form of inflamed, smooth plaques in the folds of your skin. This type of psoriasis can be found in areas where your skin rubs together, like under your arms and under your breasts. Inverse psoriasis often shows up in genital areas like the folds between your groin and inner thigh, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology.4Plaque psoriasis patches are dry, raised, and typically reddish, purple, or gray.5 When plaque psoriasis does affect the genitals, it may not have the same extensive scaling seen on plaques elsewhere on the body, Dr. Garshick says. For this reason, a skin biopsy—in which tissue is taken from the area and examined in the lab—may be necessary to determine whether it’s psoriasis or something else.

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