A Scots gran left with bulging eyes and a neck scar from an autoimmune condition says people staring at her in the street has left her riddled with anxiety.
Clare-Louise Farrell, from Head of Muir, Falkirk, was diagnosed with thyroid condition Graves’ Disease in May 2017.
As a symptom of her illness, her immune system mistakenly attacks the muscles and fatty tissues around and behind her eyes, causing them to swell.
It also attacks the thyroid, making it overactive. As a result, Clare-Louise had life-saving surgery to remove her thyroid in January 2019, to avoid the risk of a heart attack, which left a scar across her neck.
Untreated Graves’ Disease can lead to blindness or even a thyroid storm, where organs can shut down, sometimes resulting in stroke or death.
Clare-Louise, 41, said her bulging right eye and neck scar has left her anxiety-ridden when she’s out in public.
The telecommunications worker told the Record: “Walking down the street with Graves’ Disease can knock your self-confidence. I’m on anxiety medication because of it.
“People stare at you because they think you’re staring at them, because my eyes can be so swollen.
“People make fun of others online too. You see comments under photos and I often point out that they might have Graves’ Disease. It’s a common condition, yet not many people know about it and it can leave you feeling really down.
“With my scar, I used to wonder, do people think I’ve been slashed with a knife? I’d often wear scarves to work as I was so self-conscious of it.
“Now I see it as my warrior wound as it represents all what I’ve been through over the past few years.”
The gran-of-three added: “Brain fog is another symptom I’ve experienced and I often forget things or repeat myself.
“Initially my family would get really irritated and it’s embarrassing, they’re better with it now. In work I have post-it notes all round my screen so I don’t forget anything, it’s frustrating.
“I also experience horrible period cramps, extreme fatigue and I previously suffered with some hair loss.”
Clare-Louise suspected losing around six stone between 2015 and 2016 was due to the stress of her “high octane” job.
But by December 2016 she was shivering, tired and had a “rapid heart rate”, claiming she would have “cold sweats” and felt like “she’d run a mile but had been sat in an office chair all day”.
In the weeks that followed Clare-Louise also experienced brain fog and occasionally noticed her eyes “swelling up'”.
By May 2017, her occasional symptoms worsened, with vomiting to contend with too.
Fed up with feeling so unwell she went to Bonnybank Medical Practice in Bonnybridge, where a doctor spotted a goiter (swollen thyroid) and suspected Graves’ Disease.
Clare-Louise underwent blood tests at Forth Valley Hospital in Larbert and was diagnosed with the condition one week later.
“My first thought was ‘am I going to die?’ it was scary,” she said.
“The condition is serious, but it is common. The actor Marty Feldman had it, as did President George HW Bush and his wife Barbara.”
What is Graves’ Disease?
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition and immune system disorder.
The immune system mistakingly attacks thyroid hormones, making the thyroid overactive.
It also attacks the muscles and fatty tissues around and behind the eye, causing them to swell.
What are the common symptoms?
Symptoms are wide-ranging but include;
Breaking out in a cold sweat
rapid weight loss
Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)
Change in menstrual cycles
Frequent bowel movements
Poor sleeping pattern
Who can get Gravies’ Disease?
Anyone can be diagnosed with the condition but it’s most common among women and those under 40, it can sometimes run in families.
Other groups who are more at risk are smokers, pregnant women or those who suffer from stress.
What causes it?
Graves’ disease is caused by a malfunction in the immune system for unknown reasons.
The immune system normally produces antibodies to target a specific virus, bacterium or other foreign substance.
With Graves’ disease the immune system produces an antibody to one part of the cells in the hormone-producing gland in the neck (thyroid gland).
What complications come from Graves’ Disease?
Graves’ Disease can leave patients with brittle bones or heart conditions. Pregnant women have a higher risk of being diagnosed with preeclampsia and are more susceptible to other issues like premature birth and poor fetal growth.
Hyperthyriodism, or a thyroid storm can take place when Graves’ Disease is left untreated. The thyroid goes into overdrive and other organs can shut down, sometimes resulting in death.
How is Graves’ Disease treated?
Medication is available to manage the overactive thyroid which in turn lessens the common symptoms.
If a patient becomes immune to that over time, they have the option of removing the thyroid to avoid risk of heart issues.
Post-operation patients are put on medication that mimics the functions of the thyroid.
For the next two years Clare-Louise was put on medication to control her overactive thyroid but when she became immune to that in December 2018, and risked a heart attack, she had surgery to remove her thyroid altogether in January 2019.
She’s been on medication to replace her thyroid ever since and has regular check ups.
Claire-Louise hopes her testimony can inspire others who suffer from the condition not to be embarrassed by it, and wants to help others identify their symptoms.
She said: “Graves’ Disease is very common now and if someone has symptoms like rapid weight loss, rapid heart rate and swollen eyes or thyroid, demand a blood test and don’t take no or an answer, it could save your life.
“To any other sufferers feeling self-conscious, we are all Graves’ Disease warriors. Be proud of your war wounds and help educate people.
“If speaking out helps one person then it’s all worth it.”
For more information on Graves’ Disease and other overactive thyroid conditions head to the NHS webiste.
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