In my earlier post, Is It Just Age?, I mentioned my niggling worries that something wasn’t quite right. I always try to listen to what my body is telling me – sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it completely wrong.
This time, it seems I was right. It appears I have a thyroid problem, specifically an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease which means. For anyone who’s never heard of it (and I hadn’t until about a week ago) It means that my system is producing antibodies which attack and destroy thyroid tissue. Nice.
My fitness campaign started losing momentum. I’d been having issues with the muscles in my right leg (specifically the IT band) waking me up with pain after about 7 hours of sleep. I had been seeing an osteopath to get it tweaked but it didn’t seem to be helping as much as usual so a physio was the next step as I thought perhaps I may be doing something fundamentally wrong during exercise which was causing the issue. My trainer recommended one and off I trotted (or rather limped). Several sessions later, things were moving in the right direction and I sort of settled back into the rhythm of things again.
On the whole, my physical wellbeing was much improved:
- posture (my widow’s hump had almost completely disappeared);
- muscle strength (I was up to bench pressing 20 kgs);
- my stamina on horseback was also much improved;
- my weight had dropped to under 100 kgs by my birthday in August 2013; and
- I’d dropped to a size 18.
Although weight loss hadn’t been on the agenda when I’d started, it was nevertheless a welcome side effect. My collarbones had reappeared, as had my cheekbones and I was developing a nice bit of definition around my upper arms and shoulders and discovered that, contrary to my own belief, I actually did have triceps. What’s more, they worked!
Early in 2014, the weight started to creep back on and my measurements also started to creep, ever so slightly, upwards. I was a little nonplussed as I felt I was getting fitter and stronger. The only real change I’d made in my diet was to lower my carb and sugar intake but was keeping to around 1700-1800 calories a day. I’d cut right back on processed food and artificial sweeteners several years earlier.
The other thing I’d done was to come off the Proton Pump Inhibitors that I’d been taking for my acid reflux problem – my trainer had suggested that I may actually suffer from low stomach acid rather than acid reflux. I’d done a simple bicarb test to find he was right. I had started myself on digestive enzymes immediately and found that my indigestion had, miraculously, gone away. After five months of success with the enzymes, I asked my doctor to cancel the repeat prescription for the inhibitors that I’d been on for over 20 years. He asked why, so I told him – he was very interested and said he’d look into it for future reference. Interestingly enough, I’d found that going onto the digestive enzymes had improved my dry skin and my hair had started to acquire a shine (which it hadn’t really done in years). I subsequently found out that low stomach acid can interfere with your nutrient absorption (especially protein).
Then I thought maybe I needed to work harder as perhaps my body had got used to the level of exercise but that didn’t help. The next thing to happen was that my will to exercise started to wane. By September I’d fallen off my bike and bruised my ribs, then I got a full blown dose of the flu and capped it all off by breaking my wrist in January of this year, putting me out of action for the best part of two months.
During the preceding few months, I’d noticed that my “granny naps” at the weekend had been extending themselves. Rather than having a quick one hour snooze, my body had indulged in a full blown two and a half hour heavy sleep, which concerned me. I was worried that my CFS was reasserting itself, despite having been symptom free for over 10 years.
By July this year, I’d put a over 7kgs back on and was starting to struggle mentally. My attention span dropped off and I was getting sleepy in the afternoons at work. The muscles in my legs were now giving me so much trouble that whenever I walked even half a mile I’d find that whenever I got up from sitting down, I’d look like an old lady who needed a walking stick for the first few steps. Everything was stiff and sore, despite doing plenty of stretching after exercise. Back to the osteopath. No relief. Back to the physio – the last session was so tough that I actually swore during treatment and came up in bruises the following morning.
My biggest obstacle to date has been my internal dialogue. Here is some of it:
- I’ve always been lazy when it comes to exercise.
- My progress isn’t as fast as it should have been because I’m getting older
- It will take longer to achieve any fitness goals because I’ve been carrying an extra person around since my late 20s.
- My recent weight gain must be because I must have been in denial about my food intake somehow.
- The pain and discomfort is probably down to the fact that my body simply isn’t used to being used properly and it will take time to adjust.
However, in the back of my mind there was always doubt:
- What if my metabolism just isn’t running fast enough?
- What if there’s a problem somewhere that just hasn’t been diagnosed?
When I saw the article on potential thyroid issues and the proverbial light bulb went on above my head, I mentally catalogued all the symptoms and compared them to a full list of hypothyroid symptoms. I had well over half of them. I’d overlooked a lot of them thinking it was just down to age (as I’m sure do a lot of people) or approaching menopause (which we still don’t talk about enough). I decided it was time to visit the doctor.
Bless my doctor – he’s lovely but he doesn’t know me as well as I know myself physically. I told him that I believed I had a problem with my thyroid and that it may be underactive. He said he’d do some blood tests, but could only do the TSH on cost grounds. I asked whether he’d be OK with me arranging my own private tests – he said he didn’t have a problem with that. To be on the safe side, he’d also check for diabetes (well, I’m still fat aren’t I?) and cholesterol. I could have told him that my blood sugar was fine and that my cholesterol would come out a little higher than he’d like but I figured I’d let him do those tests too – why not find out as much as possible?
Unfortunately, the good old NHS in this country seems to place their faith in blood tests and tends to ignore what the patient says. It seems intent to prove that anyone who thinks they’re not well and may have a list of fairly nebulous symptoms is simply “plumbum oscillans” (or swinging the lead in more common parlance). I really object to that assumption. I went through absolute hell trying to get my Chronic Fatigue diagnosed back in 2002 and was told that my symptoms were caused by the fact that I was overweight and a smoker, whilst completely disregarding the fact that my health up until that point had been pretty damned robust and I rarely visited the surgery. I hasten to add here that, at that time, I was under the jurisdiction of London GPs, most of whom in my area were utterly incompetent and probably thoroughly jaded from all the idiots and timewasters who book an appointment because they have a sniffle. Not that I’m cynical or anything …
The phlebotomist at the surgery drew the blood a few days later and three days after that I attended again to get the blood taken for the private blood test (see Finger Prick Blood Tests). While she went off to check whether I’d have to pay for the blood draw, she left her screen unattended so I snuck a quick peek at what was on there – well they are my medical records. I saw what I suspected – the blood sugar was fine, cholesterol was exactly the same as it had been 5 years ago and 10 years ago. TSH however had come back at 2.4 – within the NHS-defined “normal” range). I was deflated. I didn’t check the other results that had come in before she was back again, drew the blood and sent me on my way.
I sent off the samples to Blue Horizon and they sent the results by email the following working afternoon. Thyroglobulin Antibodies show over 3x the upper limit but my T3 and T4 were all in the “normal” range, albeit at the low end. After much more searching and reading I had a better idea of what Hashimoto’s was about. It has also given me an idea of the amount of resistance I’m about to encounter from the NHS and the medical profession in general. I can see me going through several more rounds of people thinking that my symptoms are all in my head and that there’s nothing wrong with me.
What I strongly suspect is that I’ve had this problem for a long time. After my first ever (and last) reflexology session, I was advised to have my thyroid tested. My GP at the time was one of the really good ones and agreed to run the test. When it came back “normal” I put it out of my head and thought no more about it. I wish I’d known them what I know now. I’m now starting to wonder whether this was the issue underlying my CFS all along but went uninvestigated and undiagnosed because of the seeming apathy of the medical profession.
Let me say here and now that I am neither a malingerer nor prone to hypochondria. I cannot, quite frankly, be arsed with not being well. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. I was driving my car two weeks after breaking my wrist because I couldn’t sit around being helpless any longer. I discharged myself from hospital a few hours after having my appendix removed because I didn’t want to be in a place full of sick people for any longer than absolutely necessary and I believe that I recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in around 18 months through sheer force of will so that the absolutely last thing I want is to be unhealthy. And if I turns out that I am suffering from something, then I will do everything in my power to find relief from the symptoms and feel better as quickly as possible. I don’t have the patience to put up with illness so anyone trying to accuse me of hypochondria or trying to make me think that I’m imagining symptoms or malingering really does make me want to wrap my hands firmly around their throat and shake them until they turn blue.
Irritability and mood swings are another symptom of hypothyroidism. I’m just saying …
In the event that anyone reads this who is having similar symptoms or has questions, I’m putting some links here where you can go for further information. There is a wealth of information out there if you look in the right places.
Thyroid UK Homepage – marvellous site providing all kinds of useful information on thyroid conditions including advice and where to get private tests and treatments.
Stop The Thyroid Madness – this site provides all kinds of discussions about the condition, symptoms, treatments and provides all kinds of useful articles on synthetic and natural dessicated thyroid medication.
Could You Be Hypothyroid (Quiz) – This is by Mary Shomon who is an advocate of basing treatment on the symptoms rather than the lab values