health · medication · top tips

How To Decide Whether To Have Surgery/Radiation/Take the Medication…

I’m a member of lots of Facebook support groups for people with pituitary tumours and other chronic or long-term illnesses. One of the most common types of post is people saying they’re not sure whether or not to go through with whatever treatment has been recommended by their doctor. It’s a big decision, and not something that strangers on the internet can really answer for you! But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any process or technique you can use to make healthcare and treatment decisions… That’s why I’m writing this blog.

I want to share a process I learned doing National Childbirth Trust classes when I was pregnant, which I think is a great technique to follow to help you make these kinds of decisions. It doesn’t have to be restricted to use in healthcare settings, either.

The process is called “BRAIN” and it’s an acronym to help you to remember the questions you should ask about your recommended treatment. You should consider:

  • Benefits – what are the possible benefits of this treatment?
  • Risks – what are the risks of doing this?
  • Alternatives – what alternative options are there? Why are they not the recommended option?
  • Intuition – what does your gut feeling tell you?
  • Nothing – what would happen if you don’t do anything?

I think this provides a really great format to have a constructive conversation with your healthcare provider, and to ensure that you’re fully informed about your treatment. It can be helpful to take this list to your appointments so you can work through each question when you see your doctors (if you’re anything like me, you forget what you want to ask if it’s not written down!), to inform your treatment decisions.

I’ve also written previously about my experience of pituitary tumor surgery and making the decision to go ahead with surgery (twice) – you can read about that here.

birth · health · post-partum · pregnancy · thyroid

Could You Have Post-Partum Thyroiditis? I Do!

Any regular readers of this blog will know that for a few months now I’ve had some mysterious medical issues that my doctors have been somewhat baffled by. I’ve had blood tests, an MRI of my pituitary, and a scan of my thyroid with radioactive technetium. Despite being told at the hospital that the results of my scans would be available within a couple of days, it took a month before anyone actually got back to me with the results. I tried to take that as a sign that it wasn’t anything incredibly serious, but anyone who’s had extensive dealings with my hospital’s admin systems would know that you wouldn’t want to stake anything particularly important on their effective functioning (like, say, your long term health…)

Anyway, I finally heard from a doctor, and he confirmed that they believe I have a condition called post-partum thyroiditis. Even though I already have a pre-existing thyroid condition, I’d never heard of this quite common post-pregnancy thyroid illness. So what is post-partum thyroiditis?

Post-partum Thyroiditis

What is post-partum thyroiditis?

Long story short, this is caused by your thyroid gland going a bit haywire due to a rebounding immune system after pregnancy. It typically starts with having thyroid hormones that are too high (hyperthyroidism) for a few months. Then it either just returns to normal, or the thyroid hormones dip too low (hypothyroidism) for a few months – or even permanently.

How would I know if I have it?

Post-partum thyroiditis is actually quite a common condition with around 5 – 10% of women experiencing it, although a lot of the time the symptoms are just ascribed to normal post-pregnancy recovery. Most women initially experience hyperthyroidism – symptoms can include a racing heartrate, anxiety, tiredness, difficulty sleeping, achey muscles, twitching or shaking, feeling hot or sweating a lot, and weight loss. Obviously most of those could easily be ascribed to the post-birth recovery period and/or sleep loss thanks to your new baby.

The only way to know for sure if you have post-partum thyroiditis is to have blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels. So if you’re concerned that you may have this condition, please make sure you speak to your doctor about it.

How is post-partum thyroiditis treated?

Hyperthyroidism as a result of post-partum thyroiditis (let’s just call it PPT) is not usually treated beyond beta blockers to reduce the impact of the symptoms of fast heartrate, anxiety, etc. Conveniently, I’m already taking beta blockers as my doctors tend to prescribe them at the first sign of hyperthyroidism, as my heart loves to go too fast and will take literally any excuse to do so.

Hypothyroidism might need to be treated with replacement thyroid hormone if it becomes severe enough. I’m hoping we don’t have to go there.

How long does postpartum thyroiditis last?

How long is a piece of string? Unfortunately, it seems that postpartum thyroiditis is a very variable condition and each woman has a different experience, so there’s no way of saying how long my postpartum thyroiditis will last. It could be a few months, a year, or even longer – sometimes the side effects are permanent.

What are the risk factors for postpartum thyroiditis?

The big question for me was whether my existing pituitary condition (which affects my thyroid) creates a risk factor for postpartum thyroiditis. A quick Google indicates that I’m not the only person with a TSHoma to go on to develop post-partum thyroiditis. But because my pituitary tumour is so rare, when anything out of the ordinary happens the doctors don’t really know what to expect. However, previous history of thyroid issues is a known risk factor for post-partum thyroiditis, as is a history of auto-immune illness.

What are the implications for me personally?

It’s just a case of wait and see, and hope I don’t end up with low thyroid levels, as that could make things complicated in terms of treating it and my pituitary tumour. So please keep your fingers crossed for me!

In the meantime, I’m back to monthly blood tests to monitor my thyroid level and regularly checking in with the hospital.

Are you a postpartum thyroiditis patient in the UK? I’d love to hear about your experience! Let me know in the comments.

health · top tips

How To Get Your Doctors To Listen To You

It took me about five years to get diagnosed with my pituitary tumour. That’s a guess, really – looking back, the first symptom I had was my hair starting to fall out, which started when I was around 16 years old. I didn’t get a diagnosis until I was 21, and I spent so many years wondering: how do you get your doctors to listen to you?

Now don’t get me wrong, my illness is super rare, but five years is still an incredibly long time to wait for a diagnosis. For the majority of that time, I had steadily increasing symptoms of hyperthyroidism, and was consistently told it was all in my head. I went to the doctors numerous times about:

  • Hair falling out
  • Heart palpitations and fast heartrate
  • Fatigue
  • Getting ill all the time – I caught every cough and cold going, and half the time it would turn into a chest infection or sinusitis or tonsillitis

My GPs pretty much just kept doing the same blood tests, which came back fine, or simply suggesting I was stressed and asking me how things were at home. I actually got to the point of wondering whether it was possible to be so stressed that your hair falls out without actually feeling stressed out about anything at all (other than the fact that your hair is falling out, ironically).

It was only when my resting heartrate suddenly jumped to 140 beats per minute (a normal heartrate is 60 – 100 bpm) and there was something unambiguously WRONG with me that they started taking me seriously and sending me for more tests and scans, and eventually worked out what was going on. I’ve since experienced, both with my own medical problems and those of others, numerous other occasions of feeling not believed/not listened to by doctors. So, I wanted to share my best tips for getting your doctor to listen to you and take you seriously.

5 Ways To Get Your Doctor To Listen To You

1. Be Organised

When you’re on the spot with a busy GP who you feel is being dismissive of your concerns, it can be difficult to remember everything you wanted to say or all the questions you wanted to ask. Write your key points down in a notebook or on your phone before you go, and take it with you to the appointment. You can also jot down the key points the doctor says during the appointment, to ensure you don’t forget anything.

Stick to your guns and make sure you say everything you wanted to say at your appointment (but make sure you get straight to the point and don’t waffle – doctors are busy people!). If your doctor interrupts you, you can go back to what you were saying later on (easiest if you have a list of your key points). If your doctor asks you only closed questions (yes/no questions), you can expand on your answers and give more detail.

2. Be Specific

If you are experiencing symptoms which concern you, write down:

  • How frequently they are occurring
  • How long they last
  • The impact this has on your daily life
  • Anything you’ve done to try to treat the symptoms and how successful this was

And tell your doctor this specifically. If you say something like “I’m getting quite a lot of bad headaches”, this is open to interpretation. How bad is “bad”? How often is “quite a lot”? On the other hand, if you can say “I’ve had five headaches in the last two weeks. They lasted between three and six hours, and I had to go to bed every time because paracetamol didn’t help. I’ve had to take three days off work because of it”, that helps your doctor to gauge exactly how serious your symptoms are.

3. Bring A Friend

Having someone else there (partner, parent, friend, housemate) can also be helpful, especially if that person can attest to the impact your symptoms have had. When my husband was quite poorly with his gluten intolerance, he kept going back to the doctors about his symptoms and getting fobbed off. When I went with him to one appointment and also talked about how he had lost a lot of weight and wasn’t himself, we finally got the doctors to listen and refer him to the hospital for proper investigation of his symptoms. I think if you’re relatively young and fit-looking, it helps to have someone else back you up when explaining how I’ll you’ve been.

4. Ask Questions

If you feel like you’re being fobbed off or you’re not getting the treatment/investigations you expected, asking questions is the way to go. Questions like:

  • “I thought you might want to do some blood tests. Can you just explain to me why you’re not doing that?”
  • “If you’re not concerned at the moment, are there any particular symptoms I should look out for that would be more of a concern?”
  • “If my symptoms don’t improve, how long should I wait before I come back to see a doctor again?”

Asking questions can help to open up more of a dialogue between you and your doctor, and also give you more reassurance about why the doctor is making certain decisions.

5. Remember Your Options

Ultimately, if your doctor isn’t listening to you, you can always ask for a second opinion from another doctor. Although the ideas listed about should help to get your doctors to listen to you, they won’t always work and not all doctors will be interested in listening. Changing doctors may be a better option than feeling like you’re banging your head against the wall with a physician who isn’t taking you seriously.

What are your top tips for getting the most from your interactions with doctors and healthcare staff? How do you get your doctors to listen to you? Let me know in the comments!

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health · medication · pituitary

Medical Mystery: An Update

So alas, I am once again in the position of being a medical mystery… Now, I love a murder mystery, preferably an Agatha Christie. But the only medical mystery show I’ve ever watched was House M.D., in which the patients invariably had to almost die before their doctors worked out that they did not, in fact, have lupus. I’m not so keen on the near-death approach to diagnosis, if I’m honest.

So back in early April, I re-started my medication (cabergoline). I had stopped it in late pregnancy in the hope of breastfeeding, but the symptoms of my TSHoma tumour returned after a few months, so I had to start taking it again.

As per usual, the doctors wanted to monitor my thyroid levels. My tumour produces Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH – hence why it’s called a TSHoma), which causes my thyroid gland to over-produce thyroid hormones. So as the medication works, you would expect my TSH levels to reduce, and my thyroid hormone levels to reduce too.

Because my health issues relate to the endocrine system, all the twists and turns of this mystery thriller basically just involve different blood test results. For some reason no major TV networks have shown interest in picking up a pilot based on this concept.

So: my TSH levels have indeed been reducing since re-starting my medication. But my thyroid hormone levels have actually been increasing. Quite a lot. I now have thyroid levels way above the normal range. This makes no sense if the high thyroid levels are caused by the pituitary tumour.

Cue dramatic music. Dr House gives the camera a quizzical look.

Interchangeable Hot Younger Doctor 1: “Could it be lupus?”

The other interchangeable hot young doctors smile and roll their eyes. They don’t know much, but they know that, for some reason, it’s never lupus.

Instead, it looks as though something else is causing the raised thyroid levels. This could potentially be a thyroid condition like Graves Disease, which is an autoimmune illness that causes the body to over produce thyroid hormone, or potentially a growth on my thyroid gland itself. We don’t know. At first, I think the doctors hoped it was just a weird blip on my blood test results, but repeat testing has shown the same pattern.

So my doctors have put me on a higher dose of cabergoline, to make sure that the TSHoma tumour on my pituitary gland is definitely being treated, and ordered some more blood tests to see if it could be Graves Disease. I’m hoping to hear from them this week to find out what we know and what other testing needs to be done. I’m guessing they’ll want to rule out lupus.

A quick search online shows there are only four known cases ever of someone with my condition (TSHoma) also having Graves Disease. One of the trickiest things when you have such a rare condition is that when something out of the ordinary like this happens, you’re just flying blind. No-one really knows what’s going on. Sadly, it seems unlikely that a grizzled, curmudgeonly doctor will reveal he’s known what’s going on the whole time and has just been holding the information back for 50 minutes in order to build dramatic tension.

So please keep your fingers crossed for me, and I’ll update you as soon as we start to unravel this medical mystery…

birth · health · medication · pituitary · pregnancy

My Experience of Pituitary Tumour and Pregnancy

I’ve already written about my experience of hypermobility and pregnancy (and birth!), so it feels like time to write about my experience with my pituitary tumour (pituitary adenoma).

My Experience of Pituitary Tumour And Pregnancy

Before trying for a baby

My husband and I went to talk to my endocrinologists about the possibility of trying for a baby over a year before we actually wanted to start trying (we had a wedding in between!). And it was just as well we did, because there was a lot of planning involved…

At the time, I was taking a medication called Somatuline Autogel (lanreotide) for my pituitary adenoma. There’s no data on its safeness (or otherwise) in pregnancy, and in fact it isn’t even technically licensed for my condition. I have a pituitary tumour which produces thyroid stimulating hormone (TSHoma), and they’re so rare that there actually isn’t any medication licensed for the condition. However, I’ve taken lanreotide on-and-off for nearly ten years, and fortunately it always worked well to control my symptoms.

But because it’s not known how safe lanreotide is in pregnancy, my doctors were keen to see whether I could manage without the medication during a pregnancy – or whether my thyroid levels would start going up again. So I agreed to do a trial period off the medication. All went well for a couple of months, and then I could feel my symptoms coming back, and blood tests confirmed that my thyroid levels had risen again. So, a new plan was needed.

My doctors then suggested trying cabergoline, a drug that’s used for a different kind of pituitary adenoma called a prolactinoma. They estimated to me that, based on their previous experience, there was about a one in five chance of it working for my tumour as well. And although cabergoline is not licensed for use in pregnancy, there have been more case studies etc. of women using it in pregnancy, so my endocrinologists thought it would be a better bet than lanreotide… If it worked for me.

So I have it a go… And it worked! To my surprise, it was just as good as lanreotide, if not better because it’s much more convenient. With cabergoline, I take two tablets per week (weird schedule, I know), whereas with the Somatuline Autogel it was an injection once a month which my husband had to do, and we had to keep the injections refrigerated beforehand. Plus, with Somatuline, because it messes with the function of your gallbladder, I had to eat an extremely low fat diet for 5 days out of each month, which could be a real pain when we were out and about. So not having to do that was a real bonus!

During Pregnancy

During the course of my pregnancy, I had to have blood tests once a month to check on my thyroid levels. Fortunately, they were well controlled throughout the whole time. I also had some bonus hospital visits so my endocrinologists could check up on other symptoms. Because the pituitary naturally enlarges during pregnancy, they like to check up on your visual fields to ensure that between that and the tumour, it’s not putting pressure on your optic nerve.

Planning for Breastfeeding

I really wanted to try breastfeeding, but being on cabergoline meant that could be tricky. Cabergoline inhibits the production of prolactin – the hormone that stimulates the production of breastmilk. My doctors recommended that I stop taking cabergoline six weeks before my due date, to give myself the best chance of breastfeeding, as the drug takes about four weeks to leave your system. Hopefully I would then be able to breastfeed for a couple of months before my symptoms returned and I had to go back on the medication.

So, I duly stopped taking cabergoline at 34 weeks… And then Little Man showed up at 37 weeks, rather earlier than expected! Breastfeeding didn’t work out for us. Although I made colostrum, my milk never came in, and it’s not clear whether it’s because the cabergoline wasn’t out of my system yet, or the stress and separation when Little Man ended up in intensive care for several days.

Planning for the Birth with a Pituitary Tumour

With regards to the birth, my endocrinologists were confident I could have a normal birth. Because the pituitary is involved in producing the hormones that kickstart childbirth, I did ask whether there was any reason to think that I might be less likely to go into labour naturally. But the doctors said that there was no evidence that women with pituitary tumours are more likely to need inductions.

The doctors did specifically write in my notes that I was allowed to have an epidural, as they said sometimes people can mistakenly think it’s not allowed after having transsphenoidal pituitary surgery. They also advised that there should be steroids on hand, to be administered if I experienced any unexplained low blood pressure, in which case an adrenal crisis should be suspected. Fortunately it wasn’t needed.

What advice do I have for other women with a pituitary tumour who are trying for children?

After two transsphenoidal pituitary surgeries, there was always a risk that the function of my pituitary gland had been damaged by the surgery and I might find it difficult to conceive. Fortunately we were very lucky and I was able to get pregnant. Because we knew it might take a while, we planned a long time ahead, and I’d definitely recommend talking to your endocrine team to work out a plan of action well in advance of when you want to start trying to conceive.

Trying me on/ off various treatments took over a year from when we first discussed it, due to delays from the hospital’s administration and us deciding to go back on my regular medication for the three month period of our wedding and honeymoon, to make sure I felt well for it. If we had been actively wanting to start trying for a baby, that would have felt incredibly frustrating and slow. It was frustrating enough even when we knew we didn’t want to start trying until after the wedding!

Do you have any experience of pregnancy and birth with a pituitary tumour which you can share? Let me know in the comments!

my experience of pituitary tumour in pregnancy and birth the sickly mama blog adenoma
baby · health · hypermobility · pain · parenting

Hypermobile Mama

I thought it might be good to write something about my experience so far of being a mama with hypermobility. I have hypermobility spectrum disorder, which basically means rubbish joints that bend too far and hurt, and technically I meet the diagnostic criteria for Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) although I’ve never formally been diagnosed with it other than by a random dermatologist at an appointment about something else (long story).

My worst joints are probably my hips and knees, although I also get pain in my shoulders, elbows, ankles, hands and feet (so basically everywhere other than my spine!). So what is my experience so far of parenting with hypermobility spectrum disorder?

Parenting with Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder

The Advantages

I always like to try to stay positive and actually, as it turns out, there is at least one advantage to having hypermobility with my baby! His dad always complains that the little dude pinches and claws at his hands and arms when he holds him in his lap, and I was wondering why he didn’t do it to me… Except actually he does! But because I have skin that stretches more than it should, it doesn’t bother me when he grabs handfuls of it. This is the same superpower that led me to be immune to Chinese burns when I was in primary school…

The Disadvantages

The main disadvantage so far is just the ability to treat pain when it arises. I normally try to avoid taking medication for my joint pain unless it’s really bad, and I like to manage it using heat – hot water bottles or baths especially. But you can’t put a hot water bottle on a sore hip when you have a baby in your lap, and my opportunities for taking baths have been significantly reduced! Plus even when it’s bad and I want to take painkillers, if Little Man has just fallen asleep in my lap then I’m not going to go moving him.

For the first time the other day, when I was feeding Little Man and he was quite fussy with teething pain, he was pushing back against my arm so hard that it was making my shoulder partially dislocate even with me trying to brace the shoulder against a cushion. By the end of the feed, my shoulder was so sore!

He’s still only four months old, so I’m definitely worried that as he becomes stronger, it will become easier for him to accidentally injure me. All I can really do is try to build up the muscles around my joints which helps to hold them in place better. So I’m currently doing a tonne of yoga to try to strengthen my joints as far as possible.

Are there any other hypermobile mamas or papas out there with tips for taking care of your joints and a baby at the same time?

hypermobile mama my experience of parenting with hypermobility spectrum disorder the sickly mama blog
health · medication · pituitary

Cabergoline Side-Effects: My Medication May Cause Gambling Addiction

So after much chasing of the hospital, finally they have agreed that I should go back on my medication for my pituitary tumor. The tumor is a very rare kind, which produces thyroid stimulating hormone, and in fact is so rare that there are no medications which are certified for treating it. Therefore, my endocrinologists use medication for other types of pituitary tumor, off-label. It’s called cabergoline, and it has some pretty niche side effects… As you may have guessed from the title of this post. I’m going to write about cabergoline side-effects, but first: why am I on this medication in the first place.

When I wanted to try to get pregnant, the doctors tried taking me off medication completely, but the symptoms of high thyroid levels came back after a couple of months. So they tried me on cabergoline (Dostinex for any Americans reading), a dopamine agonist which is usually used for treating a much more common type of pituitary tumor called a prolactinoma. And – surprisingly – it worked! I was delighted, because the doctors had suggested there was only a one-in-five-ish chance that it would actually work to treat my condition – thyrotropinoma, a.k.a. a pituitary tumour which secretes thyroid stimulating hormone.

The thing about cabergoline though, is that it has some particularly weird possible side effects…

cabergoline side-effects gambling addiction side effects the sickly mama blog pituitary tumour treatment

Possible side-effects of cabergoline…

All dopamine receptor agonist drugs come with a risk of impulse control disorders. That means compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping, hypersexuality, binge eating and really any form of addictive or impulsive behaviour. As well as prolactinoma, cabergoline is prescribed for Parkinson’s Disease, often in much higher doses. Here’s an article about a Parkinson’s Disease sufferer who experienced extreme impulse control side effects from taking the drug. It’s from the Daily Mail but well, what can you do. Reputable newspapers don’t usually go for true life scandal about medication that turns you into a transvestite con artist.

Taking A Gamble

Some patients won lawsuits against the companies who manufactured these drugs, for failing to provide a warning about these side effects, because of the effect the medication had upon them and the impact on their lives. There have been other cases where people have escaped prison sentences after committing crimes, by successfully evidencing that their behaviour was caused by the medication – although that argument doesn’t work for everybody.

These side effects aren’t especially common in pituitary patients, but my endocrinologists warned me about them before I first started on the drug. Every time I go to the hospital with my husband, they check in with him that I haven’t started gambling or compulsively shopping. Obviously they check in with me too, but they like to get his more unbiased view!

Other Side-Effects (It’s Not Just Gambling Addiction)

More common side effects of cabergoline include possible cardiac effects, low blood pressure and dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and hallucinations. Other less common side effects include psychosis and delusions. It’s really a list of side effects that makes you think twice about taking the medication. I’m a member of several Facebook groups for pituitary patients, and there are often anxious posts from patients who have been prescribed cabergoline who are concerned about the possible side effects.

Ergot-ta Be Kidding Me

So why all the crazy side effects? Well, cabergoline is actually derived from ergot. Ergot is a kind of fungus which can grow on grains and, if ingested in large amounts, will make you crazy – hallucinations, delirium, psychosis and mania, among other things. It’s even been suggested that ergotism might have been the root cause of the Salem witch trials, with ergot poisoning causing symptoms of “bewitchment”. So perhaps it’s not surprising that cabergoline can have some pretty crazy side effects too.

My Experience Of Cabergoline Side-Effects

Last time I started the medication, I got on with it pretty well. I did experience some dizziness and low blood pressure – I tend to have somewhat low blood pressure anyway – but the longer that I took the drug, the more my body adapted to it, and the blood pressure issues resolved. So I’m hoping that I won’t have any major problems this time… Fingers crossed! But if you see me in Ladbrokes, maybe let my husband know.

crazy cabergoline side-effects the sickly mama blog side effects dostinex dopamine receptor agonist

coronavirus · health · pain · pituitary · top tips · Uncategorized

Coping With Pain When You Can’t Use Painkillers

Firstly, I want to make it totally clear that I’m not advocating that people shouldn’t use painkillers to manage pain. But thanks to the current coronavirus lockdown, I’ve had a couple of situations where I couldn’t use my normal painkillers, and it got me thinking about coping with pain when you can’t use painkillers.

I have chronic pain from my hypermobility spectrum disorder that flares up now and then, especially when the temperature changes rapidly from hot to cold or vice versa. Usually if it gets particularly bad, I take ibuprofen (Advil, for any Americans). However, since France issued a warning about using non-steroidal inflammatory painkillers during the covid 19 pandemic, I’ve tried to avoid taking it even though the evidence is not really clear either way.

Then I also have an issue with very bad sinus headaches, which is a hangover from two lots of brain surgery done via my nose (transsphenoidal surgery). They get so bad that they also have the fun side effect of making me very nauseous, to the point that I have actually thrown up from them several times. They are aggravated by pollen/hayfever, so tend to get worse at this time of year. Normally, I would take paracetamol because ibuprofen doesn’t work for them… But we don’t have much paracetamol in the house, and it’s been hard to get hold of lately with the coronavirus panic buying. So again, I’ve been trying to avoid taking painkillers.

And so, I thought I’d write a post about some of the ways that I find helpful for coping with pain (especially joint pain, because that’s my most common issue). They probably won’t work for everyone, or every type of pain, but I hope you might find it useful anyway.

Coping With Pain When You Can’t Use Painkillers

1. Heat

I find that heat is so great for managing my joint pain. Pre-baby, I would often try to have a bath or at least a hot shower if they were playing up, as it helps the pain so effectively that I often wouldn’t need to take painkillers at all. Now I have a three-month old baby, I can’t just run off for a bath at the drop of a hat (sadly). So I use a hot water bottle or (preferably) a microwaveable wheat bag. Extra layers also works, but while it’s easy to put extra pairs of thick socks on if my ankles or feet are hurting, it’s not so easy to layer up and warm up a hip joint.

Conversely, ice can also help certain types of pain, especially sports injuries.

2. Breathing Exercises

When I was pregnant, I did an online hypnobirthing course with The Positive Birth Company. Well, actually I did about 60% of the course, because I was totally caught out by Little Man arriving three weeks early. One of the big aspects of hypnobirthing is using breathing exercises to manage pain. I found this really useful when giving birth; I think it’s particularly good for pain which is severe but comes and goes – like, say, having a baby…

3. Distract, Distract, Distract

I always find my joint pain is worst at night, when I’m in bed and trying to sleep. But actually, chances are that it’s not any worse then than it is any other time; it’s just that there aren’t any distractions to take my mind off my poor sad joints. Even something as simple as listening to music or reading a book can help take your mind off ongoing low-level pain. For worse pain, something interactive and requiring concentration is better as it forces your attention away from what’s hurting – like playing a game or reading aloud.

4. Movement and Massage

Probably depends on what’s causing your pain, but for my joint pain, gentle movement is really helpful to take the pressure off my joints. The other day, I was holding Little Man, who was finally sleeping after a very grumpy day (he didn’t poop for three days! Enough to make anyone grumpy I’m sure), and my hips were playing up so badly but I didn’t want to move him! When he eventually woke up, I went to do some chores in the kitchen and the pain in my joints improved significantly just from the movement.

Linked to this, massage can be really great for pain – although obviously some pain locations are more accessible than others.

5. Physiotherapy

Following on from the above, in the longer term, physio can help with some forms of chronic pain. I always assumed physiotherapy wasn’t really very effective, because I’d known a lot of people complain that it didn’t work for them. But when I was pregnant with Little Man, I actually tried physiotherapy for the first time, and I found it incredibly effective.

My hip pain got a lot worse very early on, from the pregnancy hormones (which make your joints looser) and extra weight. It was so bad that I was waking up constantly throughout the night in huge amounts of pain from my hip partially dislocating in my sleep. Then I would swap sides and sleep on the other side for a bit, until that one started hurting and woke me up to swap sides again. It wasn’t fun, although I guess it was great practice for waking up constantly at night with the baby once he arrived! In fact, even on bad nights when he was teeny tiny, Little Man woke me up significantly less frequently than my hips had done throughout my pregnancy.

It took a number of weeks to get an appointment with a physio, but I got there, did a full assessment and got several exercises aimed at strengthening the muscles around my hips, to hold the joint in place better. It was about six weeks of religiously doing the exercises before I noticed results, but the improvement was really noticeable and made such a huge difference to the rest of my pregnancy. So, if you haven’t already – I recommend giving physio a try.

6. Check Skeletal Alignment and Muscle Tension

If this one sounds super hippy-dippy, bear with me. A few years ago, I realised that my headaches (normal headaches, as opposed to sinus headaches where the pain is in the front of my face around the nose and eyes) are often either caused or at least aggravated by tension in my neck and shoulders. It could be from sleeping funny, being crouched over a laptop, or just being stressed and tensing up. Making a conscious effort to relax my neck and shoulders (maybe coupled with a gentle massage) can really help relieve those headaches.

Similarly, with my joints, I’ve realised that when I’m experiencing joint pain the first thing to do is check the alignment of the joint, i.e. are the bones lined up straight or am I sitting, moving or tensing in a way that sends pressure though my joints in an unnatural way. Because I have hypermobility, it’s easy for my joints to partially dislocate or just misalign without me actually noticing, and that can unsurprisingly cause pain.

7. Keep Active

When I was first diagnosed with hypermobility spectrum disorder (as it’s now known), the rheumatologist told me that the most important thing to keep pain at bay was to keep active and build up muscle to support my joints. At the moment, on lockdown, I’m doing yoga pretty much every day with my husband and it’s great exercise that’s very low-impact and thus kind on your joints. I definitely recommend it, and you can find specific yoga flows online that are tailored to particular issues, such as lower back pain or crappy hips (technical term).

Your top tips for coping with pain when you can’t use painkillers:

Do you have any tips or techniques for pain management/coping with pain without medication that work for you? Let me know in the comments below!

coping with pain when you can't use painkillers strategies and tips for chronic pain without medication the sickly mama blog
health · pituitary · Uncategorized

My Pituitary Gland Has A Great Sense Of Timing

So, I have a super rare tumor on my pituitary gland. It’s called a TSHoma or thyrotropinoma, because it produces thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). I’ve had surgery on it twice but we’ve never quite been able to get rid of it, there’s still a teeny stumpy bit left.

There’s actually technically no approved medical treatment for my condition, because it’s so rare, but for many years I was treated off-label with a medication called Somatuline, which is used for another kind of pituitary tumor and worked well for mine. However, when my husband and I decided we wanted to try for a baby, my endocrinologists suggested trying another medication, also off-label, usually used for yet another kind of pituitary tumor. It’s called cabergoline and they suggested trying it because it’s been used slightly more often in pregnancy compared to the other medication I was on. My doctors thought there was maybe a one in five or one in six chance that it would work to treat my tumor, so I was pretty pleased when it did.

Cabergoline stops you lactating, because it inhibits the production of prolactin by the pituitary. As I wanted to have a chance at breastfeeding, we agreed that I would stop taking the medication six weeks before my due date with Little Man, to give it a good chance to leave my system and allow me to produce breast milk before he arrived.

As it turned out, Little Man had his own plans. My waters went at 36 weeks and 5 days, and he arrived at 37 weeks exactly (just 2 and a half hours away from being technically premature!). Breastfeeding didn’t work out for us, but when I saw my endocrinologist a few weeks after the birth, I wasn’t having any symptoms from being off the medication, so we agreed I would stay off it for now. I was due to return in three months, and get in touch if my symptoms came back.

Well, now that coronavirus is here and I really don’t want to go to the hospital or GPs, my symptoms are back and I want to go back on my medication. It’s not terrible so far, just occasionally a fast heart rate, feeling a bit jittery, and the odd shooting pain in my neck (always the most unambiguous sign that my thyroid is doing something weird).

The hospital has introduced a great new telephone system where you can’t just phone a department directly, you have to go through a central switchboard. This is great because it means that you can wait on hold for ages to explain why you’re calling to the switchboard operator, who then explains that they can’t help you and will need to put you through to the department. Then you’re on hold again, which is brilliant because the hold music is not at all deeply irritating. Then either a) no one answers and the call just terminates, or b) someone answers and you get to explain why you’re calling again, so they can tell you that they’re not the right person to talk to and they’ll put you through to the relevant person. Then the relevant person isn’t in, so you’re told they’ll call you back. Then, when they don’t call you back, you get to start the whole process again.

It really is a genius of modern system design, because previously when I had to call the hospital, I sometimes only reached medium levels of furious hatred at their appalling administration, whereas now I reach maximum capacity every time.

So, last week I sent an email to my endocrinologist’s secretary, in a bid to avoid having to telephone hundreds of times until my soul is macerated completely and starts to run out of my nose. However, I have not heard back and my symptoms are only getting more noticeable, so I guess telephoning is now my only option. I can’t wait!

The pituitary gland is also known as the hypophysis. And that’s not just a hypothesis.