I’ve had Grave’s Disease for nearly six years now. This is the most common form of hyperactive (over active) thyroid condition for women ages 20-50. It is an auto immmune condition. So, for some reason or other my thyroid has been attacking itself creating hormonal chaos within me.
For the past six years I’ve taken anti thyroid medication to try and balance my thyroid to a normal state of functioning. There are basically 2 medicines that can be used, PTU and Methimazole. I’ve done both with success until recently.
Luckily, I never experienced major side effects of the disease and I’ve never had issues with the medications, which are processed through your liver. Grave’s can affect fertility in women so I am very grateful that I was able to conceive both Ella and Clara while I had Grave’s, and that they were born healthy and without complications of the disease and medicines.
In April my body started to fall in to chaos. My thyroid was probably the most hyperactive it had ever been despite being on medicine. I began to have tachycardia and extreme anxiety – both side effects of Grave’s. I’ve been to the emergency room twice since then. Now, I have to take Propanolol, which is a beta blocker, to keep my heart rate under control and as needed anxiety medications. I knew it was time for a more permanent treatment option. First, I had to wean Clara and let my hormones settle a bit.
The options are 1. thyroidectomy. Surgically remove the thyroid. I have a history of postpartum hemorrhages and the idea of having my neck slit was too much for me. They claim it can be done as an outpatient procedure. Yeah right! My ass would be in a proper operating room, in a hospital. I feel safe in hospitals,
Option 2. RAI treatment. Radioactive Iodine Uptake. It sounds a bit scary so I’ll explain in more details about how it works.
Your thyroid is the only thing in your body that absorbs iodine. Back in the 1940s doctors and scientists figured out a way to attach radioactivity to iodine, developing this procedure. It’s also used, in much higher doses, to treat thyroid cancer. It’s basically a targeted thyroid missile. You swallow a pill that contains the bomb, the thyroid detects the iodine, absorbs it and traps the radioactivity in the gland. The radioactive substance begins killing off the thyroid cells. In 4-8 weeks my thyroid should be completely nuked.
One day ahead of the procedure you go to the doctor and take a practice pill. Before you ingest it they take a measurement of the pill. 4 hours after ingestion I went back to the doctor as instructed and he used some type of meter to measure the amount of the pill that had been absorbed in my thyroid. It’s not some new fancy piece of equipment, it was heavy and archaic. Good news, my thyroid absorbed about 65% of the pill in just 4 hours. This is very typical results for a patient with Grave’s. They also took a measurement of my knee for comparison to my thyroid and there barely anything detected there. More good news. The Endocrinologist does lots of math to figure out what dose is needed to kill my thyroid with these figures. My age, height/weight, current lab values, the size of my thyroid, all are considered too.
My thyroid is about twice the size of someone without Grave’s disease for reference.
On the day of the procedure they take a final 24 hour reading of my thyroid and knee. Again, I had reassuring measurements. My thyroid had taken up 85% of the practice pill. Don’t quote this but I believe the Doctor said a normal thyroid might have had about a 5% reading at that time. Mine was 85%. Slight difference 😉
Now, I’m officially radioactive! My Endocrinologist was quick to point out that I would not develop super hero powers, or glow in the dark. Such a bummer! That’s unfortunate, huh? This is a very small dose of radiation – I won’t lose my hair or have any side effects. The only side effect of this procedure is a mild sore throat. It’s safe for me to be at home so long as I heed all of the precautions…
Currently I’m quarantined in my office since I am not supposed to have close contact with anyone for 24-48 hours. I have to sleep alone for a week. No long car rides with anyone for 3 days. I can’t hold the kids close or on my lap for more than 5 minutes at a time, and no more than 30 minutes per day, for 2 weeks (this is the toughest one). I’m not supposed to prepare any food for anyone but myself for a week either. Good thing I have a very capable husband who will handle all this without any trouble! He really is the best!
The flip side of this is that I’ve consented to hypothyroidism (under active) thyroid for the rest of my life. Honestly, it sounds like a dream compared to what I’ve been dealing with. All my doctors tell me it’s a dream compared to treating Grave’s. The medication to treat hypothyroidism are easier on your body. You’ve surely heard of Synthroid before. Synthetic thyroid hormone. My thyroid levels will be more stable, easier to manage, and without the dangerous side effects of Grave’s. The anxiety may be here to stay, and if so I’ll need to figure that out – but the tachycardic episodes will resolve. My heart is irritated and my body is exhausted because of my thyroid.