Monday, April 07, 2008

More on a Diagnosis

It's official. I have Degenerative Disk Disease. I was holding out hope for the ability to think of myself as just having a couple random degenerative disks, but after speaking with the doctor this morning, that wouldn't be an accurate account. The first MRI only covered my neck, so they'll be doing another one to look specifically at my lower back, where I also have frequent pain. The lower back pain occurs 2-3 days a week and ranges from mild to severe, and if there are degenerative disks in the lower back, it will explain why simply sitting down in a different chair too hard a few weeks ago caused the compression of three disks in my lower back (a truly embarrassing story to have to repeat).

I also found out this weekend that my father was diagnosed with the same disease in December. Thought it's not truly genetic, family history plays a role. The doctor said that being an athlete -something I thought would be helpful in terms of a history of being physically active - is also partly to blame. Other answers he gave were neither good nor helpful. Here's how it went with me asking questions and the doctor giving answers.

Q: Will this progress over the future?
A: Yes. It's part of the natural aging process, but even more so for people with DDD.

Q: Will this be a slow progression?
A: Usually.

Me: Oh good, so I won't find myself having 2 more degenerative disks in 2 years.
Doctor: It's possible. The progression is usually slow, but we don't know for sure how an individual case of DDD will progress. Each person is different, each person responds to physical therapy different, and the progression will also depend on the wear and tear placed on your back and neck.

Q: Will this affect my next pregnancy? My husband and I are planning to try to conceive at the end of the summer. (Note: I had a good deal of lower back pain with H, some 9 years ago, but it was mainly because she was laying on my sciatic nerve. With E, I had "OH MY GOD!!" lower back pain, to the point that my doctor gave me Vicodin to use "judiciously", sent me to the chiropractor, and threatened to put me on bed rest.)
A: Anytime you add extra weight, your lower back will be further strained. The increased pain with your second pregnancy is largely a result of you being 8 years older, but if the MRI shows that you also have degenerative disks in your lower back, that will explain it as well.

Q: Is there any form of a "cure"?
A: No. Physical therapy is the best primary treatment, except in severe cases, which might require surgical treatment (i.e. fusion, "padding" the disk).

So, there you have it. It kinda sucks. As it turns out, the doctor is not a fortune teller and can't look into a crystal ball to see how this will affect my future. I'm sad, but not upset. I was just starting to get really excited about trying to get pregnant again, but now I'm anxious about how mobile I'll be during the last three months of a pregnancy. I'm scared. Not terrified, just a little scared of the unknown. I'm still a little confused regarding what kind of strength training and/or exercises I can and should do in order to stay generally fit. I don't know if jogging makes things better or worse? Lifting weights? Not sure....these are questions for the physical therapist. Speaking of...I better call to find out when my first appointment is. Just what I need, another "thing" that interrupts my dissertation work schedule--argh. This makes it even more sucky!

But, it could always be worse...there are worse things that affect people every day. I'm blessed with a fantastic husband, two healthy, smart, happy children, parents who love and support me, and a career that I genuinely enjoy. Really, I have nothing to bitch about.


M said...

Sorry to hear about the diagnosis, but you sound like you're in a good place with it. From my own experiences with health issues I know that the mental battle is the biggest one, and it looks like you've got that one tackled.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry! Not what you needed right now. I hope you are able to find solutions for the pain that work for you. I guess knowledge is power, but still... I'd say it was definitely something I'd bitch about! I hope the lower back scans aren't so bad.

Jennie said...

Hey, just because you have good things in your life doesn't mean that you're not entitled to bitch a little. After all, those good things would still be a part of your life without the back troubles. See, I can always find a way to rationalize a bitch session!

mgm said...

So sorry to hear about that. My mom has degenerative disk, too, along with scoliosis and two new knees. It seems fairly manageable for you, though, no?

mgm said...

And you have every right to bitch.