I’ve mentioned it here before, but just in case there are a few of you out there who don’t know what Graves’ Disease is, I thought I’d share. (Just like in first grade when I had to bring something in for show-and-tell and I completely forgot until the morning of. My mom quickly ripped out a sales flyer for kites and thus began my fear of public speaking… I digress.)
I thought I’d share because Graves’ Disease is one of those things that can go hand-in-hand with diabetes, but you don’t always hear a lot about it.
Graves’ Disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism. It occurs “when your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid gland” (I quote from the MayoClinic.com Web site, because they’re so gosh-darned eloquent—and I don’t want to get any of the facts wrong).
My Graves’ Disease was discovered very shortly after my diabetes diagnosis. After the whole hospital thing and I was back living in my own life with the added bonus of insulin, I found me a regular doctor. The first thing she did was run a whole panel of bloodwork to see what else might be wrong. She noticed my levels of the hormone thyroxine were high (that’s what the thyroid gland produces) and she sent me to an endocrinologist.
Now, not only does Graves’ Disease go well with diabetes, it’s also hereditary. While no one in my immediate family has diabetes, my father does have Graves’ Disease. I was an easy mark.
The endocrinologist confirmed I was on my way to full-blown Graves’ Disease, but hadn’t arrived there yet. Before anything could be done, my thyroxine levels had to be sky-high. And this is where the fun part comes in.
I had to have blood drawn every three weeks to test what my levels were doing. This went on for five months. In the meantime, the symptoms of Graves’ Disease starting appearing. Basically, it makes your metabolism speed up like a frickin’ freight train (Footloose, anyone?). I started losing a lot of weight (even more than with the diabetes), my heartrate was going through the roof (they gave me meds to slow it down), I had an endless supply of energy and the appetite of a large Canadian moose (maybe American, I don’t know for sure).
When my levels had finally reached a place my endocrinologist declared appropriate, I drank a radiation cocktail that’s purpose was to destroy my thyroid gland. (I had to avoid babies and small animals for 24 hours because I was so radiant (note how I turned that into a positive. I was radiant, not radioactive.)) Then the fun continued.
I had to wait until my thyroxine levels dropped to nothing before they could give me meds. Again, another round of blood tests every three weeks. This time around, I was experiencing the opposite symptoms: rapid weight gain, feeling incredibly tired all of the time, no energy. I basically sat on my couch feeling crappier and crappier until about the fourth month when it was finally declared I could start on synthetic thyroxine (brand name: Synthroid). The fun continued.
They have to start you on a low dosage and gradually increase it so they can get your levels to just the right point without going too far over. Another round of blood tests, this time every four weeks. I went through three dosages before they settled on one that seemed to be working.
Now, I take a pill every single day, and will continue to take a pill every single day for the rest of my life. The thing with Synthroid (although I use the generic version, which is much, much cheaper, but I don’t happen to know its name, so I’m using “Synthroid” to make my life easier), the thing with Synthroid is that in order for it to work the most effectively, it has to be taken at the same time every day. It also has to be taken on an empty stomach, and you can’t eat for at least an hour, preferably two, after you’ve taken it. It can also mess with birth control pills.
So, given all that, and throwing diabetes into the mix, I have my alarm set for 4am in the morning. I wake up, throw back the pill, then go back to sleep. I do it this early in the morning because when I wake up, I exercise right away. If my sugar is too low, I have to eat. I can’t eat if I’ve just taken the pill, so waking up earlier allows me to eat when I’m ready to exercise. I take my birth control at night to solve that issue.
I’m down to having the thyroxine levels checked once a year, but if I’m feeling really crappy and sluggish and gaining weight without being able to lose it, then I ask for the test. It’s only happened once in the last five years and they did raise my dosage. (The dosages are color-coated and I’m now in the purple zone. It’s a pretty pill.)
So that’s my Graves’ Disease. Exciting, no? Just one of the many reasons Lora has a pharmacy permanently attached to her hip… But hey, at least I got to say I was radioactive (or radiant, depending on my mood).
As always, more to come…