Now, don’t panic.  It sounds way more morbid than it actually is.  It’s named after Robert Graves, a physician who was the first to describe the disease back in the 1830s.  (Too bad his last name wasn’t “Butterfly” or “Puppy.”)

Graves’ is an autoimmune disease.  The immune system makes an antibody called TSI (thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin) and it attaches to the thyroid (which is in your neck).  TSI mimics TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone – which is the normal regulator of the thyroid) and stimulates the thyroid to make more thyroid hormone. This then leads to hyperthyroidism.

Graves’ is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the U.S.  It usually occurs in people under 40 and is eight times more common in women than men.  It has a strong family history component (but my family can’t think of anyone who has/had it.)  It is also frequently triggered by stress.

Here’s a list of symptoms of Graves’, with the ones I had bolded:

  • A fine tremor of your hands or fingers
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Double vision
  • Eyeballs that stick out (exophthalmos)
  • Eye irritation and tearing
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Goiter (possible)
  • Heat intolerance
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular menstrual periods in women
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nervousness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat (palpitations or arrhythmia)
  • Restlessness and difficulty sleeping
  • Shortness of breath with activity
  • Weight loss (rarely, weight gain)

There’s also a another condition related to Graves’ called Graves’ ophthalmopathy, which has it’s own list of symptoms.  Mine are bolded.

  • Bulging eyes
  • Excess tearing
  • Dry, irritated eyes
  • Gritty sensation in the eyes
  • Pressure or pain in the eyes
  • Puffy eyelids
  • Reddened or inflamed eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Double vision
  • Limited eye movements, resulting in a fixed stare
  • Blurred or reduced vision (rare)
  • Ulcers on the cornea (rare)

Since getting the diagnosis, I’ve tried to think back when I first started feeling the symptoms of Graves’.  So far, I’ve pinned it back to this February. I remember babysitting after work and eating snacks in the car ride over because I was starving.  One time, I forgot a snack and felt so shaky and weak.  I also remember at work, I’d be treating a student and the simplest of physical activity (playing chase or helping a student climb the stairs) would make my heart race, I’d be out of breath, and I’d sweat excessively.  These symptoms would take a little while to go away, but they would always resolve. And none of the symptoms I had were ever painful, so I never thought to go see a doctor.

In the summer, I felt the symptoms even more.  In the morning while making my lunch, I’d also prepare a bunch of snacks to bring to work each day.  I always ate breakfast before I left for work, but I’d bring a PB&J, a baggie of cereal, a piece of fruit, and granola bars, fully knowing that I’d eat them all by work-day’s end.  I was constantly eating at work and would feel shaky and my heart would race if I didn’t eat at least every 1.5-2 hours.

We ate outside a lot in the summer and I noticed that it seemed painfully more sunny.  I’d be squinting in the sunlight.  I have even gone back inside to grab my sunglasses because it was just so freaking bright out!

We also do a lot of lifting at work and I noticed that I was sweating a lot and would be short of breath after doing one(!) lift. At first, I thought I was out of shape.  So for a few weeks, I got up early to work out, but when I did, I would plug a fan in and have it point at me the whole time.  I would sweat like I had just ran miles.  Even when I would eat dinner or go to sleep, I would need the fan blowing on me.

At night, I could fall asleep fine, but would wake up around 1 or 2am and be so hungry that I’d make a PB&J and eat it.  But then, when I’d try to go back to sleep, I’d be so restless.  You know how when you yawn, usually your eyes get a little watery?  For me, I was tearing.  Like, shed-a-tear-because-you’re-sad tearing.  Like, need-a-tissue, poeple-will-think-you’re-crying tearing.

At church, it was so hard to sit still during the sermon.  (It did not have anything to do with the pastors!)  I’d be fidgeting a lot; I wouldn’t be able to focus.

[TMI alert: I also was having up to six bowel movements a day.]

In July, there were four different instances of people inquiring me about my eyes.  Both my siblings (whom I hadn’t seen since January) mentioned separately, “Why are your eyes so big?”  And my mother-in-law told Will that my eyes were like “fish eyes” and that I should get my thyroid checked out.  I didn’t really notice any changes in my eyes…because I see them every day.

I hate this picture of me, but it was taken August 4 and even I can admit that something is wrong with my eyes:

I had a physical on August 20, and I asked about getting my thyroid checked. The doctor said that I probably didn’t have any thyroid issues since I was young and healthy and that maybe I just had low blood sugar levels.  She took my blood and said she’d run it for thyroid tests anyway.

Four days later, I got a voicemail message saying, “Well, you were right!”  I’m not sure if I was glad to be right…but at least we had the beginnings of an answer to my symptoms.  After two more blood tests on August 24 and September 10 and a thyroid scan on September 25, I had an appointment with an endocrinologist later that afternoon.  That’s when it was confirmed: I have Graves’ disease.  My total T3 level was at 635.  Normal is 60-160 ng/dL.  So I have moderate/severe Graves’.

It’s not life-threatening.  There’s several treatments for Graves’ and decades of research on it.  With no known family history, in my case, it was probably brought on by stress.  And as some of you know, from July 2011 to May 2012, my previous job was causing me daily, crying sessions of stress, so I’m not at all surprised that stress could have triggered Graves’.

That night, I started taking 30mg of Methimazole:

It took about three weeks for me to start feeling different.  I was feeling stronger in my muscles, less out of breath, sweating less, and not needing to eat as much or as often.  I was sleeping better and my eyes were looking less swollen.

I had a follow-up visit with my doctor on November 2.  She is happy with the improvements in my symptoms and I will see her again at the end of December.

I gave a blood test at the appointment and got the results in the mail this past week.  My total T3 level is now at 131 (norm 60-180/ng/dL)!!  I’m normal!

I still have some swelling in my eyelids and still tear when I yawn, but most every other symptom is significantly improved/gone.

A few days ago, I was experiencing some different symptoms: a-TMI-symptom-that-I-won’t-share-here and muscle cramps in my hamstrings, hip adductors, bicep, and neck.  I called my doctor yesterday and she thinks I may have now swung into the hypothyroidism levels.  She had already told me this could happen, so I’m not concerned.  She’s decreased my Methimazole dosage down to 20mg and I’m going back on November 27 for another blood test.  So we’ll see how it goes.

I’ve wanted to share this info with my readers (and put it down in writing for myself); just haven’t found the time or words to write, until today.  I’m fine, so don’t worry.  Over this medical journey, I’ve experienced great joy and peace in Christ and have been (shockingly) calm.  There are many people in my life who are suffering intense medical illnesses, and my prayers are with them.  I am humbly thankful for the Graves’ card God has dealt me; I know He is with me and will always be with me.  I’ll share my spiritual and emotional thoughts in response to Graves’ in another post.

Thank you to Will, my parents, siblings, prayer partners, small groups, and family and friends who knew about my diagnosis and prayed and supported me.  I still need your prayers as Will and I and my doctor figure out the best dosage for me and the next steps in my course of treatment.

All glory to God.