Friday, 3 February 2012

The Silence of the Gland: Diagnosed

It's been a while since I wrote the last post about my previous attempts at diagnosis, so I decided to man up and get the heck on with it. Yeah! USA! USA!*

Obviously my tales of pituitary surgery will be the most enthralling/gross, but who knows, maybe the events leading up to surgery will also be of interest to someone. If worst comes to the worst and I develop dementia in my old age, I guess I can read all about my exciting earlier life!


It had been determined that there was nothing wrong with my heart. My cardiologist ordered several blood tests and referred me to endocrinology.

This is where it gets dull and technical.

What I didn't know was that, up until that point, although I showed symptoms of hyperthyroidism, my doctors had only ordered blood tests which looked at my levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone, rather than the thyroid hormones themselves. TSH is produced by the pituitary, then it travels through the blood and spurs the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones. Usually, when hyperthyroidism is caused by a problem with the thyroid gland, you would expect the pituitary gland to produce only very low level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), as the body is trying to suppress the overproduction of thyroid hormones. However, my TSH tests had always come back within the "normal range", so it was assumed that hyperthyroidism was not the problem.

Then a letter dropped through my door from one of the consultant endocrinologists at the hospital. It informed me that my blood test results were "very unusual", and that they suspected I may have a rare condition called resistance to thyroid hormone (RTH). I was called into the hospital for further tests.

At the hospital, I met the consultant who had written the letter. To this day, he possesses one of the finest moustaches I have ever seen. Whilst I sat wondering what kind of scissors he used to trim it so neatly across his upper lip, he informed me that resistance to thyroid hormone is a rare genetic condition, in which most or all of the body's tissues do not respond normally to thyroid hormone. In some people, there are few symptoms as the whole body is equally resistant to the hormone, resulting in high levels of thyroid hormone in the blood but few issues associated with this; in others, the pituitary is more resistant than other tissues to thyroid hormone, leading to some symptoms of hyperthyroidism.

My blood tests showed that I had normal levels of thyroid stimulating hormone, but high levels of thyroid hormones T3 and T4 in my blood - indicating that my pituitary was not responding normally to the high thyroid levels. I was told that the only other possibility was that I might have a tumour on my pituitary which was producing TSH, a.k.a. a TSH-oma, but that this was even more absurdly rare than resistance to thyroid hormone and it was much more likely to be RTH.

I had more complex blood tests at the hospital, and they even took DNA samples to look for the particular mutation. Everything came back negative. The moustachioed doctor's main area of interest was resistance to thyroid hormone, so he passed my case to a colleague specialising in pituitary issues; it was pretty much certain by then that I had a pituitary adenoma, they just needed an MRI to show the tumour. Which they did - and I've already written a post about the MRI, which you can read here.

I don't really remember the phone call from my endocrinologist informing me that I did indeed have a pituitary macroadenoma, measuring 23mm by 19mm by some other measurement which I've forgotten. By that point I had had a chance to get used to the idea that I had a pituitary tumour, so the phone call was really just official confirmation with additional details. But I do remember calling my mum to tell her the news; I walked home from work the long way, through one of the big parks nearby.

After that it was a bit of a whirl of activity. I got the news just before Christmas 2010 and as soon as I arrived back in town after New Year's, I had to arrange to start lanreotide injections to reduce the amount of TSH the tumour was producing. They wanted me to have injections for three months, then a transsphenoidal hypophysectomy (that's pituitary surgery to you and me) immediately afterwards. I had to spend a day in hospital so that they could check that my pituitary was still producing other hormones at a normal level and wasn't about to collapse due to a lack of adrenocorticotropic hormone or something. It all passed in a bit of a blur; the idea of surgery was definitely what most occupied my mind in the intervening months...

UPDATE: You can click here to read about my experience having an MRI scan, or click here to go back and read about my earlier experiences trying to get a diagnosis.
*Or something...

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