Why I must be my own medical detective, and you should be yours

I just solved a huge mystery. My doctors agreed that it makes total sense. But they didn’t think of it. I did.

It’s not easy to research a health condition. It can feel impossible when you don’t have a diagnosis. I went to the library when my symptoms started, but I didn’t find anything. That was in the pre-household-internet dark ages of the early 1990s. When I got online a few years later, I tried again, but I didn’t find anything. Years later the internet had more information it on so I tried again, and again, no luck. It was looking up symptoms. I didn’t have a diagnosis yet.

11 years after my symptoms started I had a diagnosis, but it wasn’t very helpful. Then I got more diagnoses. And more. And more. Still, I couldn’t piece together the puzzle. I was overwhelmed. I gave up.

One day in the library I was reading a novel and I suddenly had the urge to get rid of (or at least ease) my daily nausea. I found some books, and my journey began.

I was fortunate in many ways. The brain fog was bad, but I was still able to read. It was slow and torturous, but I did it.  I was educated enough to make sense of some difficult matter. I had just enough diagnoses to follow the right breadcrumbs. I had a fantastic library at my fingertips. I found the right books when I was in the right mindset. I was lucky. But I also worked damn hard. It took many, many months to get through those books. And it was worth every minute.

I’ve noticed lately that I have a lot more free time now that I’m not always studying those books and reading websites and following Facebook groups. It’s not that I’m cured, but I learned enough to get stable, and I was ready to take a break before tackling the next thing. I’ll do it at some point, but now I’m resting.

A couple weeks ago I was having bad brain fog. (I still am.) It came on suddenly and I didn’t know why. Maybe it was the estrogen I’d recently started again for my PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)? I could imagine why that would make a difference, but that was the only change in my medications. Or maybe it was the change in seasons? I always have trouble when the seasons change, especially in the spring. I checked with my naturopath. She agreed estrogen itself wouldn’t have this effect, but maybe the fillers would. Or it could be the change in seasons. But that didn’t feel right. I know how that feels, and the symptoms, their degree, and the style of onset just didn’t feel like it came from the start of spring.

There was nothing to do but wait and see. I hate that. But I had no choice, so I waited. Then the other day I looked in the mirror and noticed one eyebrow was thinning near the end. That was odd. It’s a classic hypothyroid symptom, but my thyroid has been stable! I have Hashimoto’s Disease, so antibodies are attacking my thyroid. In theory that means that I’ll need to adjust my medications over time, but my immune system has been calmer lately. And besides, wouldn’t the onset of brain fog be more gradual? It didn’t seem right.

Then a few hours later it hit me: the estrogen! I’d read in my research that estrogen affects the thyroid hormone delivery system. I’d paid attention because at the time I was taking estrogen for my PCOS. I went off of it later. If the estrogen I started a few weeks ago was binding those thyroid hormones, then it could have made my current thyroid dose partially ineffective and caused me to become hypothyroid again! This explains other symptoms, too, like my slight depression, moodiness, and increased appetite.

I emailed my naturopath. She agreed. I emailed my thyroid doc. He agreed. I’m getting blood work done tomorrow. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m right, but the blood work will confirm it and then the doctor can write me a new, higher prescription.

No doctor was going to catch this. That was clear. I was going to continue to get worse and worse and maybe, just maybe, someone would have eventually realized it was my thyroid. But how sick would I have gotten? Instead, we caught it early – I’ve only been on the estrogen for 3 weeks. With any luck, by next week the brain fog will have lifted and I’ll feel stable again!

Being a detective isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. No one cares about my health more than me. No one will fight harder for my health than I will. And no one can understand my body better than me. Someone else would look at my history and say that this was the same thing I deal with every March. Only I could know that it wasn’t because it just didn’t feel like it.

Think about what you know about your body and your health that no one else can know. Then, when you feel up to it, consider doing a little reading. And please come back here and let me know how it goes!

Do you do your own research? Have you felt it was worthwhile? Please share your experiences, good, bad, or otherwise, in the comments!

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2 Responses to Why I must be my own medical detective, and you should be yours

  1. Casey says:

    It’s fantastic that you have doctors that will listen to you when you are your own detective….so many treat patients like us that do that poorly!

    • chronicrants says:

      True. I’ve been lucky to live in an area where I often have choices in doctors. I don’t put up with the ones who won’t listen. It can be hard to find the good ones, and I’m still working on it for some specialties, but it’s always worth the effort.

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