Guess Who’s Back! (it’s Jess)
Hi everybody! First, I just want to say thanks for all the positive feedback about my first post. Second, I want to clarify something that I think some readers found a little bit confusing. Several people mentioned that my list of symptoms seemed to line up more closely with hyperthyroidism as opposed to hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s disease, at a very basic level, is characterized by the body attacking the thyroid. Over time, this results in the condition of hypothyroidism— under-activity of the thyroid. However, as with most autoimmune diseases (or any disease, for that matter), it’s not that simple. I found an article that I think explains pretty well what my endocrinologist explained to me. You should check it out. But in the meantime, I’ll give my best “reader’s digest version” (stole that phrase from my boss–shout out to John).
Hashimoto’s is not like your run-of-the-mill hypothyroidism. The body actually swings back and forth between hyper- and hypothyroidism because of the way in which the immune system is attacking, and then breaking down, thyroid cells until, eventually, the thyroid is so damaged that it remains permanently underactive. This differs from other thyroid conditions in that Hashimoto’s is a problem with the body’s immune function, which results in it mistakenly attacking the thyroid. Non-autoimmune thyroid conditions typically result from an issue with the thyroid itself. In my case, the hyperthyroid symptoms were much more obvious to me because I’m naturally thin so any weight loss seemed very dramatic. Plus, I would go through periods of being really sweaty and experiencing insanely rapid heart rates for no reason, like when I was lounging around relaxing.
After I delivered my baby, I had the most serious bout of hyperthyroidism that I had experienced to-date. In fact, it was so severe that my thyroid fried up (yes, that’s the technical term, I’m a doctor) and will never ever become hyperactive again. This is the process that dried up my breast milk and led to an initial misdiagnosis of post-partum thyroiditis. That was followed by a period of extreme hypothyroidism. I gained 8 pounds in a matter of days, I could barely keep my eyes open, and I felt incredibly depressed out of the blue. It was this pattern that was the final puzzle piece my endocrinologist needed to solve the mystery that is me.
And that brings me to life after my Hashimoto’s diagnosis.
It looks a lot like life before my diagnosis, but with less sweat, more hair staying on my head, and a pill I have to take daily for the rest of my life. I was prescribed levothyroxine and I can pinpoint the exact moment it reached therapeutic levels in my system. Okay, not really. But it did improve the way I felt dramatically once it took effect. It also made me realize that I had a bunch of symptoms that I didn’t even know were symptoms because I had become so used to feeling that way. You mean normal people don’t feel like their joints are going to break through their skin every day? Noted.
The most difficult part has been resigning myself to the fact that I have to take a pill every day forever. And remembering to take it. And remembering not to eat right after I take it. And remembering that I already took it so I don’t take it again. All this to say, there’s not just one thing that’s difficult about my new routine. I look at someone like my mom who has to take 10 pills per day and receive monthly IV infusions to manage her rheumatoid arthritis and I think, “Wow, I’m so dramatic.” But then I realize . . . no I’m not. It’s terrible that my mom has to go to those extremes and that there are people who have it even worse than she does. But I don’t need to downplay the fact that I feel overwhelmed and conflicted by the introduction of this new and very permanent addition to my daily routine. That’s not dramatic, it’s just feeling your feelings. It’s all relative and blah blah blah, you get it.
But let’s talk side effects. Because this new task on my morning to-do list did not come without them. After a couple months of taking the levothyroxine, I refilled my prescription and BAM. Side effects. My mother-in-law, a nurse, suspects that the compounding of this particular batch of pills might be just different enough in a way that makes me more sensitive to the ingredients, which is plausible. I feel the way I felt when I was in a period of hyperthyroidism—sweaty, shaky, hungry, rapid heart rate—and that could be an indication that my dosage is too high. But my labs came back totally normal. So all signs point to side effects.
I’d like to say I’ll go talk to my endocrinologist right away and figure out what to do but … I have a 9-month-old baby. More likely, I’ll finish out this batch and, if I’m still symptomatic after taking the next batch, I’ll do something about it. I know that’s not the best approach but that’s my life lately. So this is me, managing my autoimmune disease and trying to keep my head above water. But if that’s the most I can complain about, I consider myself pretty lucky.
Until next time,