Thursday, November 3, 2011

Poor genes, poor health – but not poor me!

I’m approaching the 2nd anniversary of my diagnosis with ITP. I feel stronger and happier than I did this time last year, but it’s been a strange journey, and along the way there have been far more questions than answers!

Every three weeks I have a blood test, and my GP and I analyse the data and come up with a new or extended hypothesis of the underlying causes of my low platelet count and my prognosis over the next few weeks. As well as the all-important platelet count, we have a cycle of other markers we monitor – cortisol, haemoglobin, red cells, white cells, lymphocytes, monocytes, basophils, eosinophils, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12, plus a string of blood chemicals and hormones identified only by initials – most of which I only have the very vaguest understanding of what they do.

No simple answer for thrombocytopenia

Two years on and the one thing that is clear is that there is no simple, straightforward answer as to why I have thrombocytopenia. Why my platelets bounce up and down, and struggle to reach 100. Why 50 or 60 is an OK level for me, though it would be a tremendous psychological boost if they would sit on 100 for while.

On 50, or better still, 60, I function pretty well most days, with maybe one dodgy day a week or 10 days. By ‘dodgy’ I mean slow moving in the morning, or shaky for the first couple of hours, so my bad days are nowhere near as horrible and debilitating as they have been, and are, currently, less frequent.

Over the months, we’ve looked at various possible causes or contributing factors, such as H pylori ,gut parasites, and low-grade Lyme disease. Plus we have identified some of my genetic deficiencies – being gluten-intolerant and also unable to metabolise folate from food. Now we have another one – low level hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism a possible villain?

In the latest blood test, we checked my Vitamin B12 level, something we do every three months, together with homocysteine. As usual, the B12 was lowish – still within the very broad range of 145-637, but this time right at the bottom. And the homocysteine was way up, almost double what it should be. Both the high homocysteine levels and the inability to metabolise folate are linked to the MFTHR gene and can occur together with low levels of thyroid hormones, and could indicate very borderline hypothyroidism.

That my presumed hypothyroidism is very marginal is shown by the fact that I exhibit none of its most noticeable symptoms: tendency to gain weight and inability to lose it; slow thinking; thin hair and hair loss; puffy eyes; oily skin; and other more delicate comparisons – such as constipation vs irritable bowel.

What it appears I have is ‘secondary hypothyroidism’, thanks to the last year’s adrenal fatigue and my ongoing adrenal insufficiency. So possibly the borderline hypothyroidism is not so much a cause as what the medicos call a co-morbidity – connected, but not necessarily cause and effect.

Chronic condition from long-term problems

To sum it up, here’s my equation:
a lifetime of less than optimal health (as a result of choosing my parents badly), compounded by environmental factors* + an unknown viral or environmental stress in 2009 = ITP.

Not a clear cause and effect, or diagnosis and cure, but good enough to be going on with, now that what was life-threatening two years ago is pretty much under control.

Reasons to be cheerful

• My weight is pretty steady at an appropriate weight for height and build: 60kg to my 160cms and thin bones;
• I have good energy (most days)
• I enjoy going to the gym 2 or 3 times a week
• I have enough freelance work that I can manage
• I love doing coffee or going to a play, concert, discussion group or art gallery with family and friends
• I have time to write my short stories
• The jacarandas are flowering
• I feel good!

* Tasmania, my home state, has very low iodine levels in the soil, causing many people to develop gross hypothyroidism and goitres. This connection was not recognised until I was about 10, so I would not have had an optimal iodine intake during my early growing years.