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Gadolinium Toxicity – Let’s not make the same mistake again
An Editorial by Hubbs Grimm
(A pdf of this Editorial is available for download)
I want to talk about the unfortunate results of the early studies of gadolinium toxicity that defined NSF and the parallels I see today in the effort to define Gadolinium Deposition Disease (GDD). I will also propose an alternative view of how to describe gadolinium toxicity in a way that reflects what we currently know and do not know that will recognize all patients who have been affected by retained gadolinium.
Before I begin, I want to be clear that I believe all those who have contributed in the past and those who are contributing today are doing so with the best of intentions and working from the basis of their experience and perspective. But that does not mean that the result or proposals are necessarily best for meeting the needs of the people who are suffering from the toxic effects of gadolinium.
Head Pain is a diagnostic feature of Gadolinium Deposition Disease
On May 18, 2018, Dr. Richard Semelka added Head Pain to the recently revised primary clinical diagnostic findings for Gadolinium Deposition Disease (GDD) and he described two critical diagnostic features of GDD. First, symptoms of GDD must start within minutes to one month after administration of a gadolinium-based contrast agent (GBCA). Second, the symptoms experienced by the patient after GBCA administration must be new, and not preexisting.
There are now 6 symptoms that stand out to Dr. Semelka as critical diagnostic findings for GDD. He said that it is imperative that individuals have at least 3 of the symptoms, but he prefers to see 5/6 to be certain of the diagnosis.
The 6 main clinical criteria for Gadolinium Deposition Disease, as described by Dr. Semelka are:
1. Intense burning of the skin and skin substrate. Arising in early stage (early on after GBCA): This can be an all over feeling in the body, but often may be localized to the trunk region or distal extremities.
2. Intense boring pain in bones or joints. Arising in early stage (early on after GBCA): This can be any bones or any joints. Often the joints may be peripheral but can also be large joints like the knee or hip. Any bones can have severe point pain, but rib pain is quite distinctive for the disease.
3. Brain fog. Arising in early stage (early on after GBCA): Many terms have been used for this: mental confusion sounds more scientific, but brain fog gets the point across well and succinctly. Brain fog is also a prominent feature of lead toxicity, which is another heavy metal toxicity.
4. Muscle vibrations (muscle fasciculations) and skin pins and needles/tingling (early on after GBCA). These symptoms may represent part of the same process that is causing brain fog. Muscle vibrations/twitching and pins and needles skin sensations generally reflect nerve disease (neuropathy).
5. Head pain (early on after GBCA). Headache is both a very common occurrence and shows tremendous variability. GDD sufferers describe it as a head pain, and unlike any other type of head-ache they have previously experienced. These two properties provide differentiating features for this entity. Some describe it as a burning pain and as an extreme tightness feeling (like a tight bathing cap on their head).
6. Distal arm and leg skin/skin substrate thickening, discoloration, and pain. Arising in the subacute stage (2 weeks +): This is very much like the principal features of NSF, but generally less severe. Instead of woodiness, doughiness; instead of redness, pinkness; instead of extreme joint contractures, stiffness of joints and decreased range of motion. Skin tightness is a feature of GDD as well. This symptom complex should be expected.
Gadolinium Deposition Disease (GDD) in Patients with Normal Renal Function
We have some important news to share with patients with normal or near normal renal function who have developed unexplained symptoms since their exposure to gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs). The disease we have been dealing with now has a name: Gadolinium Deposition Disease or GDD.
UNC Radiologist, Richard Semelka, MD, has given us permission to publish his “Initial Draft” of the Disease Description for Gadolinium Deposition Disease on our website; to our knowledge, this is the first time it has been published. Dr. Semelka said that this statement is a work in progress, and he intends to revise and expand it as he learns more about patterns of the disease. If important changes are needed, a revised Disease Description will be published.
While his research is ongoing, Dr. Semelka felt that it was important to release the Disease Description now, so that GDD is recognized as an entity by an expert, which he believes should be very important for sufferers. Dr. Semelka wants to get the initial description of the disease out into the community to start to provide relief and benefit to patients affected by retained gadolinium.
Gadolinium Deposition Disease. Disease Description.
Author: Richard C Semelka, MD. November/2015
Gadolinium Deposition Disease (GDD) is a disease process observed in subjects with normal or near normal renal function who develop persistent symptoms that arise within hours to 2 months following the administration of gadolinium based contrast agents (GBCAs). In these cases, no pre-existent disease, or subsequently developed disease of an alternate known disease process, is present to account for the symptomatology.
Patient symptoms are similar but not identical to those observed in the condition Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis (NSF). Typical clinical features include persistent headache and bone and joint pain. More distinctive features are comparable to those observed in NSF, but to a lesser extent; patients often experience subcutaneous soft tissue thickening that clinically appears somewhat spongey, without the hardness and redness observed in NSF. Tendons and ligaments in a comparable distribution may also appear thickened and painful. Patients may complain of a tightness of the hands and feet that resemble the feeling of being fitted with extremely tight gloves or socks. Patients may experience excruciating pain typically in a distal distribution of the arms and legs but may also be torso or generalized in location. This pain is often described as ‘cutting’ or ‘burning’.
Supporting laboratory evidence.
In the early months following development of the disease patients should exhibit elevated blood, urine or other tissue gadolinium levels. The exact levels necessary are not yet determined. Bone gadolinium deposition is likely present for many years following disease development. In the early months after disease development, it may be of value to show elevated gadolinium deposition in some fluid or tissue to establish the diagnosis.
As affected patients ourselves, we want to thank Dr. Semelka for publicly recognizing that patients with normal renal function are retaining gadolinium from administered GBCAs, and that they are being adversely affected by its toxic effects.
Sharon Williams and Hubbs Grimm
You can learn more about Dr. Semelka at: https://www.med.unc.edu/radiology/Dept-info/faculty-staff/faculty-pages/richard-semelka-m-d
Dr. Semelka co-authored a recently published study by Ramalho et al, High Signal Intensity in Globus Pallidus and Dentate Nucleus on Unenhanced T1-weighted MR Images: Evaluation of Two Linear Gadolinium-based Contrast Agents.