Well, not really a disease at all but it seems like one. I had never heard of the damned condition until my wife, Shirley, contracted it in September - at the same time as my mother's death. What is it? It's Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP) - an inflammatory condition of small blood vessels in the skin, bowels and kidneys, called vasculitis.
"When blood vessels become inflamed, they may bleed into the skin, causing the classical bruising or purpuric rash. Bleeding may also occur at other affected sites. HSP occurs when the individual's immune system fails to fight an infection like it should.
The exact cause remains a mystery, but it can be sparked off by infections, medicines, vaccinations, insect bites, cold weather and exposure to certain chemicals. The condition is not contagious. The symptoms include the skin rash mentioned earlier around the elbows, buttocks and upper thighs, joint pains and stomach pain.Fever, vomiting and diarrhoea may also feature and blood may be passed in the stool and urine if bleeding occurs in the bowel or kidneys. The initial symptoms may last for up to six weeks. There is no specific treatment for HSP, which usually gets better spontaneously.
The symptoms of any associated infection have to be treated on their own merits. Anti-inflammatory medicines can be prescribed to ease the joint pains. Treatment with steroids may be required if there is distress particularly due to the abdominal pain. Most sufferers therefore have an uneventful recovery with no long-term problems. Unfortunately, the kidneys may become involved within three months of onset in around 50 per cent of older children and 25 per cent of those under age two. Symptoms such as protein and blood occurring in the urine and a persistence of the rash are indications of the kidneys being involved in the disease process. "
Shirley has been battling the condition since mum's funeral. She was off work for six weeks, put on heavy duty steroids, made numerous hospital visits and is due to have a scan on Sunday with an appointment with a kidney specialist next week. It has been a difficult time, a very trying time but she seems to be well over the worst of it though the little urine sticks in the shower room keep saying that there are still traces of blood and protein in her urine so there may still be kidney issues to contend with. She has been brave throughout it all though one evening I had to hug her through an outburst of sheer distress.
If you had seen her legs at the height of this thing you would have been quite shocked - I know I was and so were some of her work colleagues - all healthcare professionals who had never before seen this condition in an adult. Whoever Henoch and Schonlein were, they should not have invented this sonofabitch disease... judging by the names they were probably mad scientists in Hitler's labs!