Instead of working on my WIP, I spent time this weekend indexing my Medical Mondays posts in a handy tab, up there. See?
(I should get a medal in procrastinating, or at least a degree. PD, Doctor of Procrastination. Can you imagine? It would take 30 years just to finish the thesis!)
Anywho...today's question comes from Elizabeth Arroyo. She asks:
"My character suffers from something that is slowly degenerative and ultimately kills her. She's been sick for about five-seven years. She has on and off moments, so she gets better than sick again until finally her body can't take it anymore. Too much meds and her insides are failing. We see her through the eyes of her daughter and I don't need anything specific to give the reader, but a name would be nice. She's currently about 42 years old."
Okay, so I picked out a few diseases for Elizabeth to choose from. The main thing they had to have in common was that it has to be potentially fatal; degenerative; hit women (and/or men) in middle age. Here are the awful contenders:
- Lupus. Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE) is a disease whereby the body attacks itself and can causes all kinds of problems involving the skin, heart, joints, blood vessels, nervous system and inner organs (basically--almost everything). Most of the time it's manageable with medications that suppress the immune system, but can have life-threatening flares and can "wear down" the body causing kidney failure and other issues that can eventually kill.
- Multiple Sclerosis. MS is caused by a loss of the special fatty sheath around nerves of the brain and spinal cord. It can cause a host of neurological symptoms, and is often managed as chronic illness. Many patients have long and productive lives. However, there are a subset of patients that progress faster and might not tolerate the medications used to control the disease. Elizabeth's character might be one of them.
- Huntington's Disease. This is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes jerky body movements, psychiatric symptoms and eventually dementia. It is inherited by 50% of the children of those patients with this disease. Heart attacks, pneumonias, and sadly, suicide, are all causes of death. Generally, though, people live until about 20 years after the start of their symptoms, which usually start in early middle age but can occur even earlier in some.
- ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, is also a neurodegenerative disease. Unlike Huntington's Disease, most cases of ALS are not inherited. The symptoms include muscle weakness, twitching, difficulty talking, swallowing, and eventually breathing. Most people with ALS die within 2-3 years of diagnosis, and usually of pneumonia or respiratory failure. This disease may move too quickly for Elizabeth's fictional needs.
- Cardiomyopathy. This is a bit of a baggage term for anything that causes the heart muscle to be "ill." There are several causes, but the one that might fit Elizabeth's situation is dilated cardiomyopathy, whereby the heart muscle degenerates and balloons out, causing heart failure symptoms. Causes include viruses, alcohol, toxins, and unknown causes. These days, dilated cardiomyopathy can be controlled as a chronic condition with medications, defibrillators/pacemakers, and even heart transplant, but even so, it can be a very difficult disease that can kill. Other organs can take a hit from the effects of a poorly pumping heart, like the kidneys, for example.