Today’s Inspiration: Graves’ Disease

Five years ago, I had a day where I noticed things were off.

After my twin girls were born, I made a commitment to myself to get fit. I started Weight Watchers, and I began going to the gym five or six days a week to run or take strength or cycle classes. By the time the girls were two, I was in pretty good shape and was eating healthier than I ever had. I felt great.

Then that day came. I don’t know why I remember it, because what I felt was nothing overly significant, just different. I went to a cycle class that morning. I was fine as the instructor started her routine, but after the first few minutes, my arms started aching badly and I could barely hold the handlebars of the bike. My arms felt really weak–and I hadn’t done any recent exercises that would’ve caused the weakness. I had been sick with bronchitis a few weeks before, so I chalked it up to that and didn’t think much more about it as I left the class.

But then that evening, I noticed a fleshy lump along my ribs near my breast. Again, I thought nothing of it. My ribs did ache, but again I figured it was due to the bronchitis episode a few weeks back.

The lump didn’t go away, so I called my gynecologist who decided it was most likely a swollen lymph node and needed checked right away.  A surgeon I met with believed it was probably nothing, but he went ahead and ordered a mammogram. Luckily all came back normal.

Then, that month, I started noticing other things and I became more worried that something was wrong. There were more lymph nodes (all were small) near my ears and in my neck. I lost seven or eight pounds in a couple of weeks without trying to. While I loved to work out before, I was finding myself too fatigued to. I was used to running a few miles a day.  Now when I got on the treadmill,  I couldn’t run a mile without needing to stop because I was so tired.

The list of symptoms went on: insomnia, awful anxiety (so much so, that I drove my family crazy with all my fears and constant worry), itchy skin, night sweats, and tremors. I called my family doctor, and he scheduled blood work. Again, all came back normal. I called my doctor every few days to find out what all my symptoms could mean (the anxiety kicking in)  and I was sure that something was dreadfully wrong. Because of all my concern over my symptoms,  my doctor referred me to a surgical oncologist. He, too, advised me that based on the ultrasounds and blood work he reviewed, everything seemed normal. I asked him why I was having all these symptoms. He didn’t have a good answer, and told me his only suggestion would be to see an infectious disease specialist.

I never did, and some of the symptoms disappeared within the next month or two. Then some would return, or new symptoms would appear. Rib pain was a big issue often, anxiety was always there, and insomnia wouldn’t go away. Joint pain was awful. I told myself that I still had toddlers that didn’t sleep well and that’s why I worried so much and couldn’t sleep at night. I decided all the joint pain was probably due to my weekly workouts at the gym.

Fast forward to last winter.  Exercise started becoming difficult. I would run a few miles with my sister each weekend, and suddenly I started having a difficult time keeping up with her on our runs. In addition I would have to stop every couple of miles and walk, something I never had to do in the past. Then the heart palpitations started. We were at home watching the Super Bowl, and my heart was fluttering so much and skipping beats that I thought I might have to visit the ER. I texted a doctor friend and asked her what to do. Since there was no pain with my symptoms, she suggested I call my doctor in the morning to schedule an appointment. During my visit, the doctor ran some tests that indicated my heart was fine. The doctor also ordered blood work to check on things. This time, he asked for more thyroid tests (TSH, T3 and T4).

I’m so glad he decided to check thyroid levels, because it showed that my numbers were off and I had hyperthyroidism. As we talked about symptoms, I realized that the past four years, I had been blaming my symptoms on other things.  Every symptom was most likely because of my thyroid problem. Finally, an answer! I was referred to an endocrinologist who ordered more tests, and those tests indicated Graves’ disease. This is the most common form of hyperthyroidism and an autoimmune disease. Thyroid conditions are also often hereditary, and I learned that while my grandmother was alive, she had also been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism.

I have been on medication for six months now, and I am finally starting to feel better. There are days where anxiety shows up, or my heart races.  Some days, I’m more irritable than I should be.  But it’s so much better than the past few years. Since the medication, I have no more joint pain, the rib pain has disappeared, and the itchy skin is gone.  Other symptoms seem to come and go, but are much more manageable than they had been.

It seemed to take forever to finally have a diagnosis. I’m glad that I finally do.  Now I know to slow down on days I don’t feel good, try to minimize stressful situations that can trigger Graves’ symptoms, and change my eating patterns (I’m now gluten-and-dairy-free) to help me feel better. I also know that I wasn’t imagining things when I felt so awful the past few years. I’m frustrated that I was not diagnosed with Graves’ for so many years, but I’m so grateful to finally have the knowledge that something was off with my thyroid so my numbers can get back into range and I can continue to get back to feeling better.