October 20, 2014
It’s been a whirlwind of activity since returning from vacation, which explains my absence here for the past 2 weeks. After several doctor’s appointments over the past few months though, including some pivotal ones last week, I’m glad to say that I finally have a bit of an answer for what’s been going on with me for the past year. On Thursday, after my endocrinologist reviewed my most recent blood-work, which was an extensive thyroid panel including testing the T3, T4, TSI and anti-TPO levels, she came back with a diagnosis of Hashimotos, an auto-immune disease where the immune system basically sees the thyroid gland as a foreign object and attacks it. While it was disheartening to receive such crappy news, it was also a huge relief that I finally new what was causing my persistent symptoms that have been with me for the past year. I discussed this diagnosis on my GMMDI IG account, and I’ve had quite a few people leave comments and email me, wondering how I was able to get such a diagnosis, mainly because they have similar symptoms, and feel confused and frustrated, not knowing where to start. It’s not necessarily easy to walk into your doctor’s office and tell them you’re feeling tired, so can you order some blood work? Certainly many doctors would react positively to your complaints, but all too often they would simply order a basic CBC and check for anemia or vitamin deficiencies. So how did I get down to the nitty gritty, which led to this diagnosis? Well, thankfully, it all started with recurrent strep.
As I had discussed back when I did my cleanse a few weeks ago, I’ve had persistent strep throat for the past 18 months. While we greatly hoped that Syd’s tonsillectomy would help me, after I continued to get strep, I finally went in to see Syd’s ENT, who luckily treats both children and adults. At first glance, it would have been simple enough for her to just recommend getting my tonsils removed, and she initially did, but I pushed back and upon explaining my recurrent symptoms over the past year, she ordered a fairly thorough CBC panel, which included a basic thyroid test (TSH). My symptoms over the past year include:
Brain fog; general fogginess which often affected mental clarity and ability to do my job. Posts that previously would have taken me an hour to write took 3-4 painstaking hours, and I was often hit with intense bouts of writer’s block. While us moms can generally feel like we’re in a fog as we go throughout our day, trying to juggle it all, it’s usually when working that we notice the biggest dips in productivity. Writing for the past year has been a huge struggle for me, hence why I took a break from sponsored posts for the time being.
Chronic fatigue going beyond “mom tired.” We’re all a bit tired, especially us moms caring for kids and juggling it all, but this went beyond the regular end of day fatigue; this was constant fatigue from the moment I woke, never feeling like I had a good night’s sleep, to the end of the day where I was struggling greatly to get through bed time. Whereas I used to be very productive after the kids went to bed, tidying up, working on projects and blogging, it was all I could do to clean up the kitchen and make it to 9 pm.
Insomnia. Once I hit my pillow, usually before 10 pm, I was fast asleep but have had a very hard time staying asleep, often waking between 3-4 am and never being able to fall back asleep. It’s often like I wake with a jolt, and I feel wide awake, but too tired to even move and get out of bed. At this rate, I sleep through the night 2-3 nights a week, and the rest of the time I start my day at 4 am. This definitely does not help with the chronic fatigue, but that plagues me whether I sleep all night or not.
Body aches, most often in the lower back area, but some days all over. While many thyroid websites cite hip and joint pain as a symptom of a thyroid disorder, never really discussing the back, body aches in those with thyroid conditions can often manifest themselves in different places, as it affects everyone differently. I have never had chronic back pain in my entire life, until this past year, and most days, even with consistent yoga practice, I have trouble moving and sleeping at night, finding relief only in Advil.
Moodiness. No real explanation here, but just moodier than usual.
Highly anxious and easily overwhelmed. Nothing to the levels of sparking panic attacks, but more so, I just feel overwhelmed a lot. Small tasks seem much bigger than they are, and I subsequently fail to do little things, which turn into bigger problems. I discussed this a bit a while back, but I thought it had more to do with just being too busy and having too much on my plate, but really, more than anything I now think I am just experiencing some mild anxiety.
Based on these symptoms, my ENT had some theories, one of which included a very simple explanation. Being that I had been fighting off infection consistently for the past 18 months, she thought my body was just run down and tired from working so hard. That would have made a lot of sense, and I did seem to rebound slower and slower each time I got strep throat, taking days to feel better and get some energy back, but it just felt like it was more to me.
When my blood work came back, we did in fact find that my white blood cell count and platelet count was quite low, and my TSH levels were off. She recommended I see an endocrinologist and hematologist for both of these issues, and long story short, I ended up with the Hashimoto’s diagnosis.
None of the three specialists I’ve seen have been able to successfully connect the dots on the three consistent problems I’ve had; strep throat, off blood levels, and the thyroid disorder, but I have my theories. Thyroid issues can often be triggered by stress or even infections and viruses, therefore it’s possible the strep throat may have triggered the thyroid disorder. Or the strep could keep coming back because of my body’s inability to fight off the infections due to a low white blood cell count. Neither the hematologist or endocrinologist wants to link the low wbc count with the thyroid disorder, but in reading and talking to many people who have thyroid conditions, they often have wacky blood count levels. My wbc has continued to dip lower over the past few weeks, so much so that my hematologist is monitoring me closely for the next month, and if we see consistent drops, he’s ordering a bone marrow test to see what’s going on. At this point, a full blood panel which included 13 tests resulted in nothing wrong, including vitamin deficiencies, mono, and even hepatitis. My gut tells me it’s somehow connected to the hashimotos and there’s nothing to really worry about, but what do I know?
The endocrinologist does not want to treat me at this point because even though the antibodies are clearly present and fall within the “high” treatable range, my overall TSH levels are not elevated enough; meaning the Hashimoto’s hasn’t harmed enough of the thyroid gland to warrant treatment. It is messing with my levels enough thought that I clearly feel off, and it’s affecting my day to day life. I was kicked out of a great blogging program last week because I failed to complete a project on time. I’m truly bummed that some days, I just can’t seem to get it together. I hate more than anything, this feeling of being unproductive and unmotivated. I can’t remember the last time I even wanted to touch a supply in my craft cabinet, and I spent all of 10 minutes yesterday throwing up some Halloween decorations to please the kids, a holiday I’ve come to love but feel completely uninspired to rally for.
While a thyroid condition is rarely life-threatening, it is one of those things that can wreak general havoc in your day to day life. The thyroid gland has a whole host of important functions, including regulating metabolism, and is one of many glands in the endocrine system in the body that regulate the function, growth and development of virtually every cell, tissue and organ in the body, and influences the function of many important organs in your body including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin. When it’s out of whack, you can experience many of the symptoms I listed above, as well as weight gain, dry skin and extreme hormonal imbalances causing depression and anxiety. I know myself better than anyone else, and while I could have certainly received much scarier news, I can first hand confirm that my thyroid being out of whack has negatively impacted my day to day life over the past year. With that said, I don’t want to just sit around and wait for my thyroid to become so damaged that I need treatment, but would rather seek some help in the meantime.
Fortunately, autoimmune conditions like hashi’s, seem to respond positively to dietary restrictions and adhering to strict diets, including quitting sugar or following a diet along the lines of Paleo or GAPS. I visit an integrative doctor tomorrow to seek out some answers, and hopefully get some tools and information to be proactive, and start feeling better. I’m hopeful that I can help manage the Hashimoto’s with an autoimmune protocol diet, but have no qualms about trying medication if my symptoms and lab work continues to progress negatively. Of course, some of the things I’ve said in the past, mocking the “Paleo heads” and lambasting the gluten-free trend, are starting to come back and bite me in the ass. If anything, I have learned once again, to have a heart for empathy and not to judge, especially when it comes to food and health.
If you have been feeling not so normal and suspect you may have a thyroid condition, it is very important you push beyond a simple TSH test, which is where most doctor’s start. While it’s certainly a place to start, often times, like with the case of Hashimoto’s, your doctor will not find irregularities unless they order a full thyroid screening. You can read about the complete list of thyroid tests to ask for here.
While I’m certainly not suggesting that every woman who experiences fatigue has a thyroid condition, I am suggesting that we as women take the time to slow down and pay attention to what our bodies are telling us. It was a combination of the recurrent illnesses, after I’ve been a beyond healthy woman for years, rarely getting sick, and the chronic fatigue that persisted even after I continued to let go of more and more work, that I knew something was really off with me. Perhaps a good rest and reduction of stress will help you feel better, but if not, please seek out a good doctor and push for some answers. About 200 million Americans suffer from a thyroid disorder, and they are 4-7 times more common in women than in men.
Please let me know if you have any questions and if I’ve missed anything. I’ll keep you updated after my appointment tomorrow.