A Positive & Negative- My First Month on Armour

After a few weeks of being on Armour, I can report both positive and negative effects. I'll start with a positive effect. I've noticed that my stomach bloating is actually starting to subside and I think that my metabolism has slowly increased.  My abdominal area and the severe swelling in my legs both have decreased practically overnight.  I've also maintained my gluten-free diet and so far, I've successfully incorporated more calories in to my diet without notably ill effects. If I would have increased my calories before, my body would have been in worse shape.
I've been sitting on writing this post for about a week now because I was going back and forth on whether or not I felt comfortable with publishing photos of me at my worst, but I decided to put my own self consciousness aside for the sake of helping others, and I think that the photos speak for themselves.  Hashimoto's creeps through bodies in whatever way it wants to, and the bloating and digestive difficulties are very common in the disease. It's not just about weight gain and hair loss.  The type of bloating that I experience is not really the same as women get during their periods.  So, instead of painting a picture for you with my smart play on words (she said, sarcastically), I'm just going to provide you with a few real images.  I rarely talk about my bloating, fluid retention, and my struggle to maintain my weight because I know that I am hardly overweight, but these photos truly depict just how Hashimoto's can cause physical changes.

I am not purposely protruding my stomach in these pictures.  In fact, if the bloating occurs in public and I am in a tight dress or skinny jeans, you can bet that I'll be sucking in my abs until I'm blue in the face. Anyway, I snapped these photos about a month before I started the Armour. I believe that the bloating is largely linked to the fact that the disease has slowed my metabolism to the point that the digestion process was compromised. I already know that my gallbladder was not functioning properly due to the Hashimoto's, and I have a suspicion that the medicine has revamped it, despite popular belief that the gallbladder cannot regain its function back. I failed the HIDA scan, but I'd never had a gallbladder attack.
I can remember the first few times that my stomach swelled. Aaron and I thought it was hilarious because I literally looked pregnant, but it became a serious matter when it started occurring everyday. When the bloating is this bad, my skin is tight, my stomach aches, breathing is more difficult, and I'm generally uncomfortable. Not to mention the emotional problems I experience, simply because the figure that I have tried maintaining my entire life was robbed by something that doctors did not believe was there, and that is another reason why I sought the diagnosis by going directly to the lab, rather than dealing with yet another doctor.
I'm really surprised that I haven't developed stretch marks because my skin was so tight and stretched.

I took the next photo about two weeks after starting the Armour treatment.  My doctor started me on 30 mg., which is a baby dose, but he quickly increased it to 60 mg. because I was not responding to the smaller dosage at all. I still have a long way to go, especially because I am still having many symptoms, so he will probably need to increase the dosage to 90 mg.  I still have the fatigue, brain fog, muscle aches, and occasional bloating, though the below photo shows that it has drastically improved within the month.

This is closer to the me that I remember. Still not there yet, but I'm starting to see my 'real' self again (of course, the hair loss is worse, which I will discuss).  The photo is not the best quality because it was one that I posted to Instagram.

My doctor explained to me that it would take about a month to feel the effects of the medication, so I am trying to refrain from over analyzing my body's reaction to the drug, but I can confidently note that I'm better, but not significantly, but I did want to share the physical changes that I noticed going on with my body.
I will say that my hair loss has slightly progressed and it is an emotional topic for me to discuss.  Hair loss is not only a symptom of Hashimoto's, but the medications may cause it too. I've always had thin hair, but it was generally healthy until recently, and it is now breaking off and its rather course and brittle. I have started losing long pieces of what appears to be healthy hair. I don't think it's vain at all to be devastated over hair loss because it is part of our identity, just like our nose, freckles, teeth, etc. I'd quickly get over a bad haircut, but this is honestly devastating to me. I'm not going to dwell on it because things could be worse, so I'll soon be visiting Kady, my awesome hair stylist, and I'm probably going to beg her to put my hair out of its misery and  just chop it off.

I'm also having some chest pain only when I try to increase my heart rate during my workout, and I still have times of dizziness upon standing. These are both likely caused by adrenal problems, which is another common problem of the disease. I have a hunch that my adrenal glands are 'shot' and I'm probably going to purchase the cortisol saliva test.

I have my second appointment with my doctor next week, so I'll probably have more of a complete update to post. Until then, eat well and stay strong!

A Few Reasons to Be Thankful Today

Last night, my doctor's wife told me that I must have a lot of patience. I kindly thanked her for her nice comment; she couldn't have been anymore wrong.  The truth is that I am quite the impatient woman these days, and I often have to stop myself during the middle of a negative thought and take confidence in knowing that I have come too far to revert back to hopeless thoughts. I now know what is wrong with me! Fifteen years of symptoms may soon be a chapter that I can finally reflect on in a positive light. So, I think it's time for me to honor the reasons why I am here and alive, rather than the reasons as to why I'm sick or perhaps my most negative thought, 'Why  me? Why is this happening to ME?'

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the day that my husband's younger brother tragically passed away.  He left the world with more than photos, belongings, and memories, he left us with these words that were well beyond his years,  " Find what you love in life and do it."  I've always loved those words of wisdom, and I ponder on them often.  The saying is fittingly in the eye of the beholder.  He offered the advice to his dad, who was not happy with his job at the time.  It resonates with me in a way that it makes me want to find something that I love in those moments, where I feel like my body is my biggest enemy, and I feel like losing hope in the rest of my day.  I am also reminded that Jordan no longer has even the slightest opportunity to find what he loves on earth, and well, I am still here, and that's not so bad after all.

This is where my lack of patience joins me. I've been on Armour for a week now, but have not started feeling better, and I've actually had a few ill effects from  the medicine. I'm only taking 30 mg. per day (1/2 grain), which is a minuscule amount.  It's common to start with a small dosage because too much of the drug can potentially shock the system or can send the thyroid in to hyper mode.  My doctor told me that it usually takes about a month for the medicine to kick in and start making a difference in their level of energy.  For the majority of this week, I've felt weak, experienced achy joints, irritability, and swelled up like a balloon.  I would be lying if I told you that I'm always positive and wearing boxing gloves ready to just, fight! fight! fight! I've have many 'feel sorry for myself' moments every month...actually I probably have them everyday.  It's not like I have a magic pill or I can get an injection everyday and I feel even partially like my old self. The process of properly treating Hashimoto's disease is like perfecting a recipe, so not adding enough of one ingredient  or adding too much of another can affect the quality of the final outcome. With Hashimoto's, the adrenal glands must be working just right, vitamin levels need to be optimal, gastrointestinal problems should be in check, and of course, the patient must be on the right dosage.  Thyroid disease slows the metabolism, which affects every organ, system, and bone, and muscle in the body. It can wreack havoc on the adrenal glands, heart, kidneys, skin, circulatory system, etc.  If I'm not constantly working at being a positive person, then that negative energy is probably affecting my physical well-being too. Sometimes being in the right mind-frame and 'getting my head in the game' is therapy too. Here's the part where I realize what I have- I have found a doctor who immediately wanted to start treatment with Armour.  He is willing to work with me and monitor me from a functional standpoint.  I could have went to another doctor, who did not want to run proper tests or even believe me when I told them that I was suffering from an unknown illness.  I could have also went to a doctor, who believed me, but was best friends with his Synthroid pharmacuetical representative, therefore that was the only medicine he felt like pushing on me.

On the days when I feel my worst, I worry that my light will not glow as it once did, and that I won't be able to have kids in the next few years, have enough energy to take them to the park, or simply bake them cookies.  I miss dreaming of silly things and having casual conversations about nothing in particular, like which local dives are popular and where I picked up my latest fashion find. I do walk down the path of 'poor pitiful me', and suddenly, I am reminded of my blessings, like the times that I see a story on the news about someone with cancer, hear about a family who lost their house to a fire, or  read about a woman who had many miscarriages and was sick for decades before they finally figured out what was wrong with her. My negative thinking caught up with me yesterday, when I saw an interview with Amy Copeland, the strong young woman, who recently caught the Flesh-Eating disease and lost multiple limbs, and the interviewer asked her if she had ever had "why me", moments. She said, "Not especially...I don't tend to think on those terms, it could have happened to anyone."  I felt ashamed and angry at myself for having so many of those moments, where I do question why I am dealing with this autoimmune disease. I felt guilty for being upset  because I was fatigued while walking down the steps. At least I have both of my arms and legs!

Lastly, this disease is progressive, but the right treatment and some hard work can drastically alter its course.  I could still be trying to figure out the cause for my illness, while the nodule on my thyroid continues to grow. It could be worse; I could be sitting here twenty years from now, still sick, but suffering from autoimmune hepatitis, heart disease, or worse.

So, when I found out that I had an autoimmune disease, I constantly wondered,'why me, God?' However, I realized that if I continued to ponder on such a question for too long, the years would quickly pass me by, and one day, I'd find myself looking back on my current days, with envy but with shame because I was able to walk with my back straight, exercise on an elliptical machine, shower, and live independently.   Poisonous thinking causes degeneration to the mind, and ultimately it will poorly communicate with the body. Today, I remember that there are many reasons to be grateful for the exact hand that I've been dealt, despite a few undesirable cards. At the end of the day,  I don't have cancer or a similarly horrible disease and that's reason enough to wake up each day with the acceptance that I'm not a patient or a victim of a disease, rather a student of a disease. The more I learn about it, the more determination that I have to control it.


Can I get an AMEN for Dr. Maxwell?!?

I've got a lot of ground to cover in this post and I haven't been feeling intelligent enough to articulate my thoughts (that darn brain fog again), but here I am, trying at 5:00 AM, thanks to my insomnia, which has enticed me enough to begin writing at this moment.

First, I received the results of the blood work that I discussed in my last post.  I am still waiting on the Anti-Adrenal Antibody test, but the others came back and I was surprised to learn that my B12 was actually high.  Many people with Hashimoto's actually have low B12 and vitamin D. I certainly have symptoms of low B12, such as numbness and tingling in both of my hands and feet, muscle spasms, weakness, etc. I have a hunch that my body is not getting the B12 from a cellular level, but I cannot seem to find any medical information on it, so I am not sure if that's even a possibility.  B12 is not fat soluble, rather the kidneys get rid of the excess amount via urine.  My diet rarely consists of the items that have B12, like meat, eggs, and liver.  My vitamin D came back low, which is not surprising because it is chronically low.

We had our first appointment with Dr. Craig Maxwell, who we found after researching thyroid doctors in our area.  After reading so many horror stories, combined with my own experiences, I went in to his office unpretentiously expecting anything, but quickly learned that he was probably sent from God.  He spent about an hour with us and humored us because he answered many of our questions, and explained his methods to us as if I were his only patient that day.  SIDE NOTE: If you want to avoid having your own horror stories about uneducated, misinformed, and unwilling doctors, I highly recommend searching forums and befriending Google in your quest because they typically use dissected/natural thyroid replacement options and consider their patient’s health from a functional perspective.  Look for clues that they combine holistic with modern approaches to medicine.  In other words, they aren’t just LAB OBSESSED.  Find out if they prefer to use desistec thyroid replacement medication, like Armour, Naturethroid, and Westhroid.  

Dr. Maxwell agreed 100% with my Hashimoto’s theory and we decided that it was best for me to start on Amour.  He was surprised at how much I had taught myself about the disease and I felt that I went in prepared to battle for my health, and it turned out that I never had to break out those 'weapons.' Although I've had a lengthy battle in diagnosing this disease, I am confident that I have found the right doctor, and that I will have a shorter battle in finding the best treatment option for me. Not so many patients of this disease can and we are so thankful that he came in to our lives at this time. 

The doctor also ran some additional blood work, including a liver panel and serum cortisol, though I intended on getting the more expensive 24-hour saliva test because many claim it to provide the most accurate snapshot of the cortisol level. We may end up purchasing that test, though it’s quite costly.  I’m still waiting on him to contact us about the results, but I had the lab email them to me. My liver enzymes are more elevated than they’ve ever been, including my bilirubin.  A few days ago, I was fearful that I may have Autoimmune Hepatitis, but I have since calmed down and have found comfort in knowing that it’s common for Hashimoto’s ‘victims’ to have elevated enzymes, and they often decrease with proper treatment.  

Here are some of the recent test results:

-CA125 (Cancer Antigen 125) - 16.7 (reference range-0.0-35.0)- I was not familiar with this test. It is a biomarker for ovarian cancer detection, and also is used for other abdominal cancers. I believe doctors are concerned when the levels are very high.
-BUN- 6.0 (7.0-17.0) - Slightly low.
-Sodium- 137.0 (137.0-145.0) -Normal, however I usually test either slightly below normal or barely normal, such as in this case. Most Americans consume too much sodium and I do get enough in my diet, however something is affecting it.  I am going to bring this up to my doctor.
-Potassium- 4.10 (3.50-5.10)
-CO2- 21 (22-30)- Another test that turned out to have a ‘slightly’ low result.  This one actually concerns me because it can be an indication of either respiratory acidosis or metabolic acidosis. We will discuss this level with the doctor.
-Total Bili (Bilirubin)-1.80 (.20-1.30)-This one is almost always elevated.
-SGPT/ALT-<3 (9-52) - An elevated level is more cause for concern than a lower level. I was unable to locate much clinical data regarding the dangers of it being low, but apparently I should not be concerned with it. I also wonder if this level is affected by Milk Thistle, which I take religiously every day.
-Total Protein-8.6 (3.5-5.0) - This was the first time that my protein level was high.

It’s amazing how thyroid diseases can affect almost every system in the body. From the heart, to the kidneys, liver, bladder, gallbladder, etc., it is a powerful autoimmune disease and many in the medical world underestimate its strength, disregard its course of action, and simply don’t give it enough credit.

So, on that last note, I feel the need to suggest this webpage for those of you, who are interested in learning more about how Hypothyroidism (Hashimoto's is the #1 cause of it) can rear it's ugly head.  It's a long read (but well worth it!) because it details all of the symptoms and clinical findings of the disease from birth to death. I found some of the text eerie because they explain many illnesses that run in my family. 

Since I just started taking the Armour, I'm going to wait it out for a few more days before posting anything about it. The doctor explained that it can take about a month to make a difference in my body. Crossing my fingers! :)

I'm also praying for my cousin as she gets her test results back tomorrow.  She has not been feeling well either and suspects that she has a thyroid problem too.  She also informed me that her dad (my mom's brother) had a goiter removed years ago. 

On our 2nd trip to Italy. I put up a good front because I was really sick in this picture. 

I am Hashimoto's Disease

Gena Lee Nolin posted the following letter on her Thyroid Sexy Facebook page.  I find comfort and support in the words, and it reminds me that there are many other people, who are suffering from some of the same debilitating and annoying symptoms that I deal with on a daily basis .  The letter can also offer an explanation about the illness when you are unable to find the best way to articulate to your family and friends  what it means to have the disease.

Hi.  My name is Hashimoto's.  I'm an invisible autoimmune disease that attacks your thyroid gland causing you to become hypothyroid. I am now velcroed to you for life.
Others around you can't see me or hear me, but YOUR body feels me.
I can attack you anywhere and any way I please.
I can cause severe pain or, if I'm in a good mood, I can just cause you to ache all over.
Remember when you and energy ran around together and had fun?
I took energy from you, and gave you exhaustion. Try to have fun now.
I can take good sleep from you and in its place, give you brain fog and lack of concentration.
I can make you want to sleep 24/7, and I can also cause insomnia.
I can make you tremble internally or make you feel cold or hot when everyone else feels normal.
I can also give you swollen hands and feet, swollen face and eyelids, swollen everything.
I can make you feel very anxious or very depressed, too. I can also cause other mental health problems.
I can make your hair fall out, become dry and brittle, cause acne, cause dry skin, the sky is the limit with me.
I can make you gain weight and no matter what you eat or how much you exercise, I can keep that weight on you. I can also make you lose weight. I don't discriminate.
Some of my other autoimmune disease friends often join me, giving you even more to deal with.
If you have something planned, or are looking forward to a great day, I can take that away from you. You didn't ask for me. I chose you for various reasons:
That virus or viruses you had that you never really recovered from, or that car accident, or maybe it was the years of abuse and trauma (I thrive on stress.) You may have a family history of me. Whatever the cause, I'm here to stay.
I hear you're going to see a doctor to try and get rid of me. That makes me laugh.  Just try. You will have to go to many, many doctors until you find one who can help you effectively.
You will be put on the wrong medication for you, pain pills, sleeping pills, energy pills, told you are suffering from anxiety or depression, given anti-anxiety pills and antidepressants.
There are so many other ways I can make you sick and miserable, the list is endless - that high cholesterol, gall bladder issue, blood pressure issue, blood sugar issue, heart issue among others? That's probably me.
Can't get pregnant, or have had a miscarriage?
That's probably me too.
Teeth and gum problems? TMJ? I told you the list was endless.
You may be given a TENs unit, get massaged, told if you just sleep and exercise properly I will go away.
You'll be told to think positively, you'll be poked, prodded, and MOST OF ALL, not taken seriously when you try to explain to the endless number of doctors you've seen, just how debilitating I am and how sick you really feel.  In all probability you will get a referral from these 'understanding'  (clueless) doctors, to see a psychiatrist.
Your family, friends and co-workers will all listen to you until they just get tired of hearing about how I make you feel, and just how debilitating I am.
Some of them will say things like "Oh, you are just having a bad day" or "Well, remember, you can't do the things you use to do 20 YEARS ago", not hearing that you said 20 DAYS ago.
They'll  also say things like,  "if you just get up and move, get outside and do things, you'll feel better." They won't understand that I take away the 'gas' that powers your body and mind to ENABLE you to do those things.
Some will start talking behind your back, they'll call you a hypochondriac, while you slowly feel that you are losing your dignity trying to make them understand, especially if you are in the middle of a conversation with a "normal" person, and can't remember what you were going to say next. You'll be told things like, "Oh, my grandmother had that, and she's fine on her medication" when you desperately want to explain that I don't impose myself upon everyone in the exact same way, and just because that grandmother is fine on the medication SHE'S taking, doesn't mean it will work for you.
The only place you will get the kind of support and understanding in dealing with me is with other people that have me. They are really the only ones who can truly understand.
I am Hashimoto's Disease.

Also, I went to LabCorp yesterday and they had some blood work drawn to check some vitamin and mineral levels that are often involved with Hashimoto's, such as Vitamin D,  B12, Ferritin (a protein that stores and releases iron), Iron, and Folic Acid.  I am also being check for the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone Receptor Antibody (TRab), which is found in Grave's disease.  My mom had Grave's disease and it is possible to have it simultaneously with Hashimoto's disease. I suggest getting tested for both Hashimoto's and Grave's, rather than starting treatment and finding out down the line that you have Grave's disease. I am also awaiting results for a blood test called the Adrenal Antibody Test, which checks for autoadrenal antibodies.  I do not suspect that this test will be positive because it is not so common in Hashimoto's sufferers (about 7% according to one lab's website), but I got it done just to rule out Addison's disease, but a positive result can still indicate adrenal insufficiency, which is another issue with Hashimoto's.

 So, we are hoping the results will come back before my first doctor's appointment, which is scheduled for Thursday.  We hope to get down to business with proper treatment right off of the bat. Wish us luck! I'll post after the 'big' day.