Chronic Mononucleosis

In May, I was diagnosed with chronic mono due to a high Epstein-Barr virus count and constant complaints of feeling tired. (According to my doctor, there are many doctors who don’t believe that chronic mono exists.) Chronic mono is a gateway illness that can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). (Although CFS can have other triggers unrelated to EBV.) There’s not much information about chronic mono, but here’s what I’ve found:

According to Livestrong.com, mononucleosis is caused by exposure to the Epstein-Barr Virus, or EBV. Apparently, close to 95 percent of adults between ages 35 and 40 carry an inactive form of this virus. While many people may never experience symptoms, those who do experience symptoms may see a resolution within 2 months. Those who experience symptoms for 6 months or more are likely to have chronic mono.

What are the symptoms of mono?

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Liver and/or spleen enlargement

While I haven’t had swollen lymph nodes or fever, I have had recurring sore throats (not lately since I’ve been on a supplement) and severe fatigue. As far as I know, I don’t have an enlarged liver or spleen.

There’s not much reliable information on the Internet about chronic mono so please feel free to chime in if you know anything about the illness or virus.

Coming off of Lamictal (lamotrigine): 200 mg to 150 mg

I'm currently experiencing significant blurry vision and fatigue. I feel like my eyes keep crossing and I have to blink several times and keep my eyes wide open to focus well. It's annoying. My mood is stable at a 6. I also think I have a slightly weakened immune system as I'm starting to get sick.

Christian counseling: Nouthetic vs. Biblical

Last night, I spent some time on the phone with my husband’s friend’s sister (aka my former pastor’s sister). We’ll call her Natalie.

Natalie was very sweet and kind, really encouraging and strengthening me by sharing her testimony of faith in God. She suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, which has led her to take Paxil (on and off) for the past 7 years. She says the drug has helped her tremendously and who am I to knock the drug (knowing what I know about Paxil/Seroxat) when she has seen the wonders that it has worked in her life?

I briefly explained my story of depression, history of suicide, and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although she couldn’t fully relate, she was very sympathetic and understanding. In fact, our conversation was so fruitful, I ended up taking notes!

Jay AdamsWe briefly touched on the issue of Nouthetic counseling (NC). She has undergone the course and simply needs to be certified. The counselor I currently see is associated with the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF), which has roots in NC and was founded by the man—Jay Adams—who developed the method. However, CCEF is now known for what is called biblical counseling. The organization has since moved away from pure Nouthetic methods and become more a bit more varied, taking bits and pieces of psychology (and perhaps psychiatry) that line up with the Bible. Adams, disagreeing with the organization’s approach, founded the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and uses the Bible as the sole counseling textbook. According to the wiki entry on Nouthetic counseling, Adams developed the word Nouthetic based on the “New Testament Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be variously translated as ‘admonish,’ ‘warn,’ ‘correct,’ ‘exhort,’ or ‘instruct.'”

NC was developed back in the ’70s as a response to the popularity of psychology/psychiatry. Many Christians reject some of the teachings of such popular psychologists as Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, etc. Adams’ highly successful book, Competent to Counsel, criticizes the psychology industry and counters its teaching with a Nouthetic approach.

But NC has its Christian critics.

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Lamictal in consideration of pregnancy

My husband and I are talking about expanding our family. While that sounds all well and good, I just have one issue:

Lamictal.

For most women, they think, “Well, I want a kid” and the most they have to do is probably get off birth control. Just finish off their contraceptives, maybe feel a little nauseous, and move forward with their plans.

(sigh) Not me. If I want to do this right, it might be a good 6 months or so before I can consider trying.

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Generic Lamictal (lamotrigine)

I'm on "Day I-don't-know" of lamotrigine (generic Lamictal). It's been at least 2 weeks. I haven't had any significant side effects except for extreme fatigue. I am often tired. Some days, I can give myself a boost of energy by playing the Wii Fit (which I snagged Saturday afternoon) and other days, exercising just wears me to out to the point where I head to the shower and then to bed. I can have 3 cups of coffee, never become fully awake, and still go to sleep at a decent time.

I'm still not sleeping well. Haven't slept well since before I went into the hospital in October 2006. I can't remember the last time I had truly restful sleep.

My symptoms remain at bay. I haven't had many suicidal thoughts or impulses. In fact, some days, I can go without thinking about suicide at all. I can't say it's all the medicine — my counseling and faith play a much bigger role — but I'm sure the medicine helps.

I've recently noticed that I'm not suffering from as much social anxiety. Again, I don't know if this is due so much to the medication as it is to the resurgence of my spiritual life. I ventured out on Sunday to a meetup writers workshop group that I'd never been to before. It was extremely weird. Not the situation, but the fact that I walked into a room full of strangers, made myself comfortable on the couch at the coffeehouse and offered input quite freely without worrying about what the others thought of me. I even had the audacity to network with a woman who works at a trade magazine in the area. How strange. I don't have balls. This is not me.

What the heck has happened to me?

Women & Antidepressants

Pink, a magazine for business women, has an article in its April/May 2007 issue titled, “The Magic Pill.” (The only way to read this article is to get a hard-copy of the mag.) No, this isn’t about birth control. The subhead: “Antidepressants are now used for everything from migraines to menopause. But are women getting an overdose?”

Good question. The article, well-written by Mary Anne Dunkin, does a nice job of trying to present both sides of the coin. One subject, Pam Gilchrist, takes tricyclic antidepressants to relieve her fibromyalgia symptoms. “One of the [antidepressants] that allows her to keep going” is Effexor (venlafaxine). God forbid the woman should ever have to come off of that one. (It works well when you’re on it, but withdrawal is sheer hell.)

The other subject mentioned in the article, Billie Wickstrom, suffers from bipolar disorder, but had a therapist who diagnosed her with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The psychiatrist she was referred to promptly put her on Anafranil (clomipramine). We all know what antidepressants tend to do for those with bipolar disorder. Wickstrom blanked out at an interview that she says she normally would have aced. In another incident, she veered off-course after leaving town and spent the night on the side of the road with her daughter. “Search parties in three states” were out looking for them.

“Three years and three hospitalizations later, Wickstrom is finally free of clomipramine and has a job she loves as PR director for a $300 million family of companies. She says she’s happy, she’s focused and she feels great – consistently.”

Dunkin’s article uncovers a large, problematic use – by my standards, anyway – of off-label usage by doctors.

“Gilchrist… is one of the estimated one in 10 American women taking some type of antidepressant medication. And a considerable percentage of these prescriptions, particularly those for tricyclic antidepressants, are not used to treat depression at all.

A growing number of doctors today prescribe antidepressants for a wide range of problems, including anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, migraines, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, menopausal hot flashes and smoking cessation.”

I’m sure the list goes on, but magazines have but oh so much space.

Melissa McNeilDr. Melissa McNeil at the University of Pittsburgh points out three things:

  1. Since depression is a prevalent (see common) condition, doctors are better detecting it.
  2. Since antidepressants have proven their safety and efficacy, primary care physicians have no reservations prescribing them.
  3. Clinical studies are finding that antidepressants can aid a number of medical issues apart from depression.

My take on McNeil’s points (I’ll try to keep them brief):

  • Depression is way too common to be abnormal. If a woman has a rough patch in life for 2 weeks or more, she’s got depression. As for doctors being better at detecting depression? Studies consistently show that doctors are great at overlooking depression in men.
  • Antidepressants haven’t proven jack squat. Placebos have proven more safety and efficacy than antidepressants. PCPs have no reservations prescribing them because they only know about the positive facts that pharma reps tell them instead of researching the potential side effects.
  • Clinical studies aren’t finding all those things out. Seroquel has FDA-approval to treat psychiatric symptoms (psychosis, for one). As far as I know, Seroquel is not FDA-approved to treat insomnia or crappy sleeping patterns. There are no specific clinical studies to see if Seroquel can treat insomnia. Seroquel is prescribed to treat insomnia/restless sleep because doctors have found that a major side effect of the drug is somnolence. If this is the case, Effexor should be prescribed for weight loss. It’d be the new Fen-Phen.

Dunkin cites two widely used antidepressants for nonpsychiatric uses: Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Prozac (fluoxetine). Zyban, used for smoking cessation is, well, bupropion. Sarafem, used to treat PMS symptoms is – you guessed it – fluoxetine.

Viktor BouquetteDr. Viktor Bouquette of Progressive Medical Group thankfully takes a more cautious approach:

“The widespread use – mostly misuse – by physicians of antidepressants to treat women for far-ranging symptoms from insomnia, chronic fatigue and irritability to PMS and menopause is merely another unfortunate example of the pharmaceutical industry’s tremendous influence on the practice of modern medicine. Take enough antidepressants and you may likely still have the symptoms, but you won’t care.”

Kudos to Dunkin for landing that quote. Since Bouquette is part of an alternative medicine group, he’s got a good motive for slamming pharma companies.

McNeil goes on to sound anti-d happy in the article. Not that it matters, but she is also a section editor for the Journal of Women’s Health, which has several corporate associates representing pharmaceutical companies. (She is also the only source in the article who sings anti-d’s praises.) Dunkin tracked down Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical professor at the Brown University Department of Psychiatry, who advocated patient responsibility.

“Just because antidepressants work for depression does not mean they should always be used. People need to learn skills to manage their depressive symptoms instead of depending on medication. When you take medicine for every complaint, you lose the opportunity to learn how to regulate your mood on your own.”

Oh, for more doctors like Haltzman and Bouquette.

UPDATE: Uh, alleged fraud suit pending against Progressive Medical Group. Bouquette is now part of Progressive Medical Centers of America.

Hypochondriacitis?

“You’re not a hypochondriac if you’re trying to convince yourself that you’re a hypochondriac.”

For the past month, I’ve been feeling fatigued, shaky, dizzy and have had bouts of vertigo. I’ve been going home after work, then crashing into bed for the rest of the night. I went to the doctor and she said nothing’s wrong except that my physical symptoms are being caused by depression. I’m not depressed at the moment and I’ve never had vertigo when I was in my severest depression so I think that’s a load of crap. However, I had a blood test that also checked my Lamictal levels and everything came back A-OK with an unusually high cholesterol level for a 25-year-old. (High cholesterol runs in my family so I’m at higher risk for heart disease, blah blah blah.) Despite the fact that science says I’m currently healthy, the way I feel says I’m not.

Anyway, I saw the Q&A below from the May 2007 issue of Shape magazine and related to it somewhat. I’m still not quite sure that my physical symptoms are manifesting through my depression when I haven’t been depressed for the past month.

“I’ve been tired and spacey lately and also started experiencing chronic headaches. My doctor says nothing’s wrong. Is it all in my head?”

No, there may be more going on than you or your doctor realizes. Headaches aren’t just caused by physical problems; they may also be a sign of depression. A new study at the University of Toledo found that women with chronic headaches, especially migraines, are 25 times more likely than other women to report symptoms of clinical depression. (emphasis not mine) Some other common signs include being unable to concentrate, gaining or losing weight suddenly, difficulty sleeping, or feeling fatigued, or losing interest in the things you usually love to do. But these symptoms may be overlooked during a medical 4evaluation, especially since many women don’t realize they should bring them up with their doctors. Twice as many women as men suffer from depression, yet nearly half of all cases go undiagnosed. If this sounds like you, make a doctor’s appointment to discuss any stressors in your life and their effects on your health.

Gina CuylerGina Cuyler, M.D., FACP, is a board-certified internist, instructor of clinical medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and a fellow of the American College of Physicians.