BBC news presenter Julian Worricker suffered from psoriatic arthritis for many years until a combination of drugs has left him virtually pain-free
“There were days when you walked off set thinking, has this really just happened,” he admits, but says that despite working as a presenter on BBC News, the corporation’s 24-hour rolling news channel, it is not stress that brought on his psoriatic arthritis, but rather the result of developing psoriasis when he was a teenager.
Psoriatic arthritis causes inflammation in and around the joints and usually affects people who already have psoriasis, a skin condition that causes a red, scaly rash, especially on the elbows, knees, backs, buttocks and scalp. In roughly a fifth of cases of people with psoriasis, arthritis can develop later in life.
Both Julian’s father and paternal grandmother has psoriasis, and although neither went on to develop psoriatic arthritis, it came as no surprise when Julian also developed psoriasis as a teenager. “It was difficult to a point but I never had it badly. At its worst it tended to develop on my elbows and knees and a bit on my torso. But never on a scale that some have to deal with and it lasted in a minor level into my twenties, and as I got older it went away.”
It wasn’t until Julian was in his late thirties that, “I just became aware of pain that had started to develop, particularly in my hands and wrists.”
The pain of his arthritis gradually got worse. When Julian recently wrote about his condition on the BBC online magazine, he rather made light of his symptoms, describing how he winced in pain when shaking the ex-Chancellor George Osborne’s hand, when he had come in to be interviewed at the studio and Julian was having a bad outbreak of arthritis.
Despite the odd tricky moment like this, Julian says his arthritis has never affected work. “My colleagues were aware of it, but I didn’t go out of my way to tell people I had it or to talk about it. I might have mentioned it in passing if it was relevant to the conversation. But close friends and family knew about it.”
He is keen to stress that many people with arthritis suffer far more than he ever has. But in the piece he wrote for the BBC Julian describes how simple pleasures, such as playing golf, were no longer an option for him as he couldn’t grip the golf club because it either hurt too much or his fingers simply could not wrap themselves around the shaft properly. And how playing the piano, something he had enjoyed since he was five, became too painful.
“I think the worst things got was when there were occasions that, because of the pain in my hand and wrist, everyday tasks that you don’t think about became hard, from opening jars and tins and bottles, to washing, getting dressed and combining your hair. And there was a brief period when, because of the inflammation the carpal tunnel in my hand had narrowed to the point of it being closed and lying in bed with pins and needles was so bad that it made it hard to sleep. The only way to alleviate it was to have a splint to wear at night. That was the only time I was briefly put on steroids and they worked like magic and opened up the carpel tunnel again as the inflammation went down.”
Julian took methotrexate for many years but found that he had to take increasingly larger doses to keep the arthritis symptoms under control. Eventually when had had been taking the methotrexate for some time and it was no longer working, his consultant recommended taking a combination of methotrexate and Humira, the trade name for adalimumab, an anti-TNF drug which is given by injection under the skin.
Julian’s consultant asked him how he felt about self-injecting. “A nurse I had known for many years at the hospital I attend showed me what I had to do with this plastic gadget and I now inject every second week and the methotrexate dose I take is really tiny now. But it’s the combination of the two that has worked really well.”
Julian works a lot with the charity Arthritis Care and after Julian’s piece was published on the BBC website he did a live Facebook chat which got a huge response from the public saying they had the same thing and it was comforting to read his piece. “I think it’s an unfortunate view in some people’s minds that having arthritis is not a great deal and that pain isn’t that bad and it only affects people of a certain age. It’s not widely acknowledged how wide spread it is.”
Julian is now virtually pain-free, can enjoy playing the piano again and you won’t find him wincing when he next has to shake the Chancellor’s hand before an interview.
For more on Arthritis Care visit www.arthritiscare.org.uk or tel 0808 800 4050