Back in November, I wrote about some pain and stiffness I was having in my hands and feet, and how in a roundabout way this led me to discover that I suffer from hyperthyroidism (i.e, my thyroid makes too much of the thyroid hormone). I say ’roundabout’ because stiffness has nothing to do with hyperthyroidism, so the jury’s still out on what is causing that, and I’m going to be going for some x-rays soon to see if we can figure out what the hell is going on. But that’s a totally different story.
I went to see the thyroid specialist in December and was sent for a thyroid scan in January. I had to drink a low-dose iodine drink, go back home, and then drive back into the hospital to get the scan done. I went to see the specialist again today to find out the results. Back in December, they mentioned the possibility that it could be postpartum hyperthyroidism, which usually resolves itself on its own after a few months.
Well, it’s not that. I have Graves’ Disease.
It’s a very unfortunate name. I assume it was discovered by Dr. Somebody-Graves and therefore was named after him, but man, could they have come up with a more somber name for this? I mean, it’s never good to have a disease, and there’s a good chance that I will be affected by this throughout my life, but as far as diseases go, it’s not that bad.
Graves’ Disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes my body to attack my thyroid which then responds by pumping out way more thyroid hormone than is required. There are a whole slew of symptoms that come along with it, but I suffer from very few. I did experience heat intolerance, and I was ALWAYS warm even on cool days, but I thought this was related to leftover pregnancy hormones (I still have a faint linea nigra on my belly from my pregnancy so my hormones are still a little out of whack). I was also really tired, but hey, I’m a new mom. Nevermind the fact that Claire sleeps through most nights; I’m still on the go more now than before.
Well, it turns out that both of those symptoms probably have nothing, or very little, to do with having been pregnant 10+ months ago, and more with my crazy, spazzed-out thyroid.
And sadly, I haven’t developed the weight-loss symptom that often accompanies hyperthyroidism; having had a baby only 10 months ago, that symptom might have been welcome!
The causes of Graves’ Disease aren’t all that clear. Genetics can play a role, but as far as I know, no one in my family has thyroid problems. But pregnancy can do it too. For whatever reason, you can develop a whole bunch of issues after having been pregnant, and not the usual and temporary ones you think of. It wouldn’t have stopped me from getting pregnant with Claire, but I do wish I had known about all of these possibilities, just to have some warning!
So, treatment! Unless either my thyroid levels get resolved before this (unlikely), or I develop one of the rare side effects that would require that I stop taking it, I will probably be on thyroid meds for about a year or so. 30-35% of people have their Graves’ Disease go into remission at this time, and about half of those people never get it again. Obviously, more people don’t get the remission card, and that’s when I will need to discuss the radioactive iodine option. As mentioned above, I had to take a low-dose radioactive iodine drink when I had the scan done in January; this would be a much higher dose (I’m not sure if more than one dose would be required, though from reading online it looks like it would) and would kill part or all of my thyroid (maybe that’s why you usually need more than one dose; I imagine they’d kill part of it, see if things get resolved, and if not, give you another dose to kill a little bit more, and so on and so forth). This would require thyroid hormone medication to replace the hormones I would be lacking due to a half-dead or fully-dead thyroid, and I would be on those meds for the rest of my life.
The doctors said that it’s my decision, and I could choose to take the radioactive iodine road now, but we all agreed that it’s probably better to wait and see if this thyroid medication does the trick. It would be more of a concern if I was planning to get pregnant in the very near future since you aren’t supposed to get pregnant while on that medication or while having an out-of-control thyroid situation, but um, not in the plan! Someday, maybe, but not now.
So, it sucks, but in the grand scheme of things, given all of the diseases out there, this one ain’t so bad. At least there is treatment and my life can continue pretty well as normal – other than the interruption of a million-and-one blood tests and possibly doctors’ appointments.