Soon after deciding and trying to have a baby, I got sick…like common cold sick. I went to my PCP (Primary Care Physician) to get checked out and to clarify the types of medicines to take that would not interfere with our plans. I shared our plans to start a family and wanted medicine that was safe for pregnancy. I was being cautious and taking preventative measures. My appointment, however, took quite a turn…for the worst, I thought. My PCP didn’t even really address my concerns because he had different concerns. He thought my thyroid was the top priority, above our desires and plans to have a family. Oh boy!
The doctor took one look at me and had me do a few tests, including blood tests. I remember doing this one test in particular. I don’t know what it’s called, if there’s an official name for it. I stood up and put both arms straight out with my palms facing the floor. My fingers were spread out and a piece of paper, like from a printer, was draped over them, one at a time. My doctor noted that the paper fluttered a lot, which concerned him. He asked me a bunch of questions and I answered them, unaware of his overall plan. I agreed to take some blood tests and we’d be in contact again in a few days. A few days later, I was prescribed Propranolol because my heart rate was very high, too high, it was affecting my sleeping and energy levels, among other things.
I left the doctor’s office, SO discouraged about our plans and now overwhelmed with what would happen next. Our plans were officially, changed…and it’s like they hadn’t even started! It was crazy!
My PCP concluded and confirmed that I had Hyperthyroid, which was caused by Graves Disease. He gave me some literature to read, which included some of the symptoms and treatment options. I borrowed a few books from the library and looked up a few things online to get familiarized with the condition. So, basically hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid gland is over active, which can cause a fast heart rate, nervousness, difficulty sleeping, bulging eyes, etc. The thyroid produces hormones and regulates the metabolism. I wasn’t in denial about it but I wasn’t sure (yet) how this would affect us trying to have a baby. The more I learned, the more I agreed with the doctor…that this needed to be foremost not pregnancy. It was not difficult to accept because I knew it was necessary and if I didn’t receive treatment, there could be more detrimental results.
In the coming weeks after my appointment, I completed more tests including blood work, x-rays, and radioactive iodine uptake test. The blood work completed confused me at first, because I didn’t know what to look for. The thyroid hormones include: T3 (Triiodothyronine), T4 (Thyroxine), and TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone). I soon learned that the blood test results confirmed the doctor’s thoughts. I also did an x-ray. My appointment took at least an hour. I laid on a long metal table, complete with a pillow and blanket. Since the thyroid is located in the neck area, that is where the concentration of x-rays were. I had to move my head in awkward angles so the overhead camera could take pictures of specific parts of my thyroid. The third test I did, I think was a radioactive iodine uptake test. I don’t remember the exact procedure for the test but I do remember taking something (I think a pill) and the top of my leg was scanned by an ultrasound machine. It showed what the thyroid activity looked like in my body and how much of the iodine was being absorbed by my body. It was a pretty neat test, I thought, although my results showed that my thyroid was hyperactive. I thought it was cool that I could see what was happening in my body at that exact time. In the end, all the tests revealed that my thyroid was in fact hyper and overactive. What now?
After all the tests were complete I was given 3 options for treatment. I needed to make a decision quickly because the doctor felt that this condition needed immediate attention. Here were my options:
1. Antithyroid medication
2. Radioactive Iodine Treatment
3. Surgical removal of the thyroid
Antithyroid medication are pills meant to suppress the production of the thyroid hormone.
Radioactive Iodine Treatment is a pill that contains a small amount of radiation and iodine. It’s purpose is to slowly decrease the production of the thyroid hormone. I was under the impression that eventually the thyroid was not going to work and I would have to take a daily supplement.
Surgical removal of the thyroid is exactly what it says. The skin is cut near the collarbone and the thyroid is removed. A daily supplement is also needed after this treatment is done…since there is no thyroid to produce any hormones.
So, my decision…the endocrinologist recommended I do radioactive iodine treatment. He discussed the option of antithyroid drugs and did not encourage surgery. After much thought, prayer, fasting, and discussion with my husband, I decided to follow the recommendation of the endocrinologist and do the radioactive iodine treatment. This also meant that we had to postpone our plans to conceive, for 6 months to a year.
Two months after I first went to the doctor, I had a scheduled appointment for radioactive iodine treatment. The process went fast. I stopped taking the Propranolol. I had all the instructions, food restrictions, and I knew exactly what to expect. A week before my appointment I started a low-iodine diet. Luckily, I found a recipe booklet online. I also purchased non-iodized salt. My low-iodine diet continued for 3 days after the treatment as well. So I was on the diet for a total of 10 days. Ok, on the day of my treatment, I basically went in to take a pill and leave. I was instructed not to eat until an hour after I took the pill. When I was called into the room, I followed the tech and waited. It seemed like everyone was clearing out. Eventually, I was the only patient in a huge room. It was awkward but I knew why…hello, I was going be taking a pill that was radioactive! I walked into a little room (located within the huge room), and watched the tech use gloves (I think goggles too) and carefully place the pill into a skinny glass vial. It was placed on a counter along with a small cup of water. I was instructed to use the vial to drop the pill in my mouth, without it touching my lips. So, I leaned my head back, opened my mouth wide, and got the pill on my tongue. I swallowed the pill with water and then was lead out the back door. Yup, I went out an alternate exit because of the risks to others. Got in my car and drove home.
Taking the pill was the easy part. I didn’t feel different at all. The dosage of the pill was based on my height and weight, as well as the severity of the hyperthyroidism. The dose was very small but there were still rules to follow and precautions to take. These are some of things I had to do:
- Flush the toilet twice.
- Rinse the tub after taking a shower.
- Sleep in a separate room.
- Stay away from pregnant women & children under the age of 2.
- Continue my low-iodine diet for 3 days.
So, I pretty much had to stay home for a few days. During the next few months, I took periodic blood tests to check the progress of my thyroid. I don’t know if it’s progress as much as it was, looking for a reduction in my thyroid function. It took a few months until my thyroid was low and I needed the supplement. I started a supplement and 4-6 weeks later, I took a blood test. I thought things were going as planned and that in a few more months, we’d be back to our original plan…trying to have a baby. Man, was I wrong!!
My blood test result showed the thyroid function was back to being overactive. I was stunned and speechless! I absolutely could not believe it! I don’t know what happened exactly but I knew my hyperthyroidism was back. I suspected that my dose for the supplement was too high, but I haven’t confirmed that. I had a lot of other thoughts as well but I was extremely surprised. I felt like the radioactive iodine treatment didn’t work. I thought the treatment was a one time treatment guarantee, but it wasn’t. I’ll probably never know. By this time, it had been almost 6 months since my treatment. I wondered what the next steps would be and what I would be recommended to do.
Well, I did more research and in the meantime, decided to take the antithyroid medicine. I carried the antithyroid medicines in my purse & set my alarm because I had to take them at least 3 times a day. The antithyroid medications worked temporary. I took them and then in 4 weeks after a blood test, I would have to decrease the dosage. This continued until I was eventually taken off the medicine. This was very frustrating for me…why wasn’t anything working? (Little did I know that I would have those same feelings in my journey to try to conceive.)
By then I didn’t have any other options besides doing to radioactive iodine treatment…again! The endocrinologist recommended that I do the radioactive iodine treatment. I was torn, which may sound weird because I exhausted the other option (antithyroid drugs) and was not going to have surgery. But, I still had to ponder the decision to do the radioactive iodine treatment again. I knew that this would only prolong and continue to postpone our family. Another 6 months to a year? Really? I was also worried about the long term effects of the treatment and how it would affect my ability to have children. I didn’t know then, that my journey would be extended. A year after my first treatment, I went ahead and did the radioactive iodine treatment again. I went through the same process and fulfilled all the same requirements. The second time worked! Everything went as planned and a few months later, I was prescribed levothroid. This medication, which is a supplement, has kept my thyroid levels stable since then. That has been a blessing.
Prior to all of this, I had no idea this was genetic. It wasn’t until I was going to do the first radio active iodine treatment that my dad shared his experience with me. A lightbulb totally went off in my head. I soon made the connection to my grandma. The funny thing was no one ever asked me about my family history regarding this issue. As time passed, I also learned of other family members that received treatment for their thyroid. Education is important. Having it would have been helpful in recognizing my symptoms, but it’s ok. I think this experience was something I needed to learn. It has also allowed me the opportunity to get to know and understand my family better because I can relate to what they’ve experienced. It was a blessing in disguise.
Next post: The Wait is Over!