As a child who grew up in South Africa, I have had many childhood diseases– chicken pox, mumps, german measles, etc.–but there is a serious illness I got was when I was not even living in a third world country: hyperthyroidism. Although I work in the medical field, I missed diagnosing myself with this one.
Three months after giving birth to my oldest child I got diagnosed with a goiter, which is caused when the thyroid is growing abnormally. In my case, it was hyperthyroidism, causing the thyroid to overproduce hormones.
We’ve all seen those crazy anatomy book pictures of people with bulging eyes and throats, emaciated and half-dead looking. I can’t say I looked that awful… but I looked really bad.
When someone has hyperthyroidism all the body’s functions go on full speed. Your thoughts go crazy and fast, your heart starts beating like nuts, and you metabolize food faster than you can eat it.
After having my first baby, I thought it was normal to be tired all the time… and the weight loss? Well, breastfeeding moms burn 500 calories per hour nursing. I could be on the phone, feeding my babe, burning the weight faster than I would be if I were running. Add hyperthyroidism to the mix, and it is like weight loss on speed. Although I only gained 16 lbs with my pregnancy, I was at my pre-pregnancy weight a week after I gave birth. The weight kept rolling off. No matter how much I ate, I could not keep up with it. Having no frame of reference for what a normal postpartum mother should be like, I just kept going. The exhaustion? My baby was up all night. Totally normal!
It all came to a head one morning when I woke up with terrible heart palpitations. I heard my baby crying, but I could not get out of bed to get him. I crawled to the couch and took my pulse. It was 210 beats per minute (bpm)! I took it again and again thinking I had messed up. My chest started hurting from my speeding heart and I called 911. I thought I was having a heart attack. 911 came and things got even more crazy. Since I could not get to the door, a fire truck was called, so the firemen could smash the door in. Luckily, my husband came home from work right before they knocked it down.
As I was not dressed for the occasion–shorts and a tank top (due to hyperthyroidism’s heat intolerance)–I made the paramedics cover me completely with a sheet on the way out. They whisked me to the ER, where I promptly got diagnosed with a panic attack, and when my heart rate dropped to 120 bpm, they sent me home. That was my base heartbeat. If I stood up, it would sky rocket. After a few days, I decided I needed to see a cardiologist. I went to Dr. Fisher, an amazing doctor who helped saved me.
The technician at the doctor’s office was taking my blood pressure, when she stopped, gaped and ran to get the doctor. Dr Fisher gave it a try and said, “Your blood pressure is 40/0. Perhaps that’s why you are passing out all the time.”
She said she wanted to run some blood work, and a few days later, she called me back to let me know that I was blessed with an easy fix… I only have a goiter. My thyroid hormones were all significantly elevated. I took some thyroid killing medicines that knocked my thyroid levels back to normal and within a few months, my thyroid was as good as new.
Apparently, pregnancy-induced hyperthyroidism is not rare. Look out for yourself or your girlfriends, and call a doctor if you experience any of the following:
· increased sweating
· heat hypersensitivity
· increased appetite
· hair loss
· weight loss
As with any medical condition, keeping vigilant is the best prevention!