It’s the Long Promised Sulfa Blog!

Since I mentioned sulfa drugs in a blog a few weeks ago, I’ve been asked some questions, including one wanting to know if these drugs could have caused a particular reader’s CKD.  Although I used the British spelling, I also wrote about my experience with sulfa drugs in What Is It And How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease (page 90):

I knew I wasn’t feeling well at all, so I called my primary care physician for an appointment.  Her medical assistant  [M.A.] told me my doctor was out of town for a Book Coverweek and to go to the urgent care center near my home since, as a CKD patient, I should not wait.  When I told the receptionist at the urgent care center that I had CKD, she sent me to the emergency room at the local hospital in case I needed blood tests or scans for which the urgent care center was unequipped.  The hospital did run a scan and blood tests.  This way, they were able to see if I had an infection, blockage or some imbalance that might not only make me feel sick but worsen the CKD.

I already knew I had a higher than usual white blood cell count from my previous fasting blood test for the nephrologist about a month before the emergency room visit.  He’d felt it was not significantly high enough to indicate an infection but was, rather, a function of a woman’s anatomy.  Women have shorter internal access to the bladder, as opposed to those of men.  Looked like my nephrologist might have misjudged.

However, he quickly picked up that the medication prescribed by the emergency room physicians, despite my having reiterated several times that I have CKD, was a sulfur based drug.  He quickly made a substitution, saving possible further damage to my kidneys.  The hospital insisted I only had Stage 2, so this was a safe drug for me.  I was nervous about this as soon as they became defensive about prescribing this medication.  You need to stick to your guns about being taken seriously when it comes to CKD.

All right, let’s go back to basics, first.  The Medical Dictionary at http://medicaldictionary.thefreedictionary.com/sulfa+drug defines sulfur drug as

“Any sulfur-based antibiotic, in particular sulfonamides.”

sulfaGreat. Now we just need to know what sulfonamides are.  The same dictionary tells us these are

“medicines that prevent the growth of bacteria in the body”

and that they are frequently used with urinary tract infections. Yet, there’s also a warning that people with kidney disease should be sure to warn their doctors about their kidney disease should one of these drugs be prescribed.

Well, why do you need to avoid such medications with CKD? As you already know, compromised kidneys don’t do the job they were meant to do as well as they did before we had CKD when it comes to eliminating drugs from our bodies.  The kidneys are the organs that clear this particular drug from the body, not the liver (which is another organ that can clear drugs from your body). That means the drug may build up… and cause problems.

Here’s one of those problems from MedicineNet.com at http://www.medicinenet.com/sulfonamides-oral/article.htm#what_are_the_side_effects_of_sulfonamides,

“Other rare side effects include liver damage, low white blood cell count (leucopenia), low platelet count (thrombocytopenia), and anemia. Formation of urinary crystals which may damage the kidney and may cause blood in the urine. Adequate hydration is needed to prevent the formation of urinary crystals.”

We are already prone to anemia since we’re not producing as many red blood cells as we could (another job our kidneys have). Sure, adequate hydration may prevent these crystals, but just how much is adequate.  After all, as CKD patients, we do have fluid restrictions.

As for actually causing kidney damage, yes, sulfa drugs can do that. As The National Kidney Foundation phrases it at http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/kidneysnottowork.cfm:NKF-logo_Hori_OB

“Other things that can damage the kidneys include kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and medications or drugs.”

 An allergic reaction to sulfa drugs can also cause kidney damage.  Allergies.About.Com at http://allergies.about.com/od/medicationallergies/a/sulfa.htm reports:

“People with sulfa allergy may also develop a type of hepatitis, and kidney failure, as a result of sulfa medications.”

However, they are careful to point out that this is an uncommon reaction, occurring in less than 3% of users.

The antibiotics Bactrim and Septra are two of the most common sulfa drugs prescribed today.  Most often, they’ll be prescribed for a urinary tract or bladder infection.  What makes it harder to pinpoint which drugs are sulfa drugs is that they don’t always have ‘sul’ in their name.

That’s also what makes it so important for you to impress upon your physician that you

the medical alert plate1. do have CKD and

2. will not be taking any sulfa drugs

Wearing a medical alert bracelet might help you remember to be downright insistent that you will NOT be taking any sulfa drugs.

The emergency room doctor did try to speak with my nephrologist before prescribing the drug for me, but couldn’t get through… a situation we’re all familiar with.  He was not a specialist and made a judgment call that sulfa drugs would be all right for me.

Yet, when I finally got a response to my own calls to the nephrologist, he was horrified.  This guy was not an emotional man so this really put me into a panic, especially since CKD was so new to me and I didn’t really know the rules yet.

Some blogs just flow and some are hard to write.  This was one of the hard ones.  I spent more time trying to tease information from the internet and my source books than writing.  I gather this is neither a popular topic nor one that is usually visited.  That makes me even more hopeful that I’ve answered your questions about CKD and sulfa drugs.NYC

I left NY in 2002, but we’re going back for a visit soon.  Nima, my NY daughter, will be taking me to High Line and The Urban Museum.  Are there any other new places you think we should visit?  While I lived there, the city was our playground… but it’s been a dozen years.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

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