I don't normally get too medical here on the blog (mainly because my expertise is in media), but I wanted to share my story of the problems that I have had with autoimmune conditions, especially during pregnancy. As well as the problems that I had during pregnancy I have had problems since which may affect future births, so I felt it was important to share what I have learnt in the event that others are in the same boat. The two conditions that I will be talking about here are Vitiligo and Underactive Thyroid. I especially want to talk about my experience with vitiligo, as I have read about people having patches fill back in once they are pregnant, but not of the condition getting much worse as happened to me. Please note that I have no medical training, this post is based on my own experience with these conditions. Please contact your midwife, health visitor or doctor if you have any concerns about your health.
Vitiligo (as pictured below and less clearly in the main image for this post) is a condition in which your immune system goes a bit nuts and starts to attack your pigment cells - resulting in the pale patches you can see here. Luckily I am very fair anyway, so the patches are not too noticeable. But due to the lack of pigment I have no sun protection in these areas so have to wear factor 50 every time I leave the house and need to reapply regularly. I started with a tiny patch under each arm about 6 years ago after a severe bout of stress. I got a couple more patches over the next few years, but it did not seem to spread that quickly.
Once I was 5 months pregnant the story changed very quickly. There are were patches (and big ones too) flying up all over the place. I went to see my doctor when I was 37 weeks pregnant as it was spreading fast and there seemed to be nothing I could do to stop it. As I was still pregnant the doctor advised me that I couldn't be treated at this point as steroids may be required and also that things might settle down once I had given birth. Things didn't settle down and only got worse, as they continue to do now. The hospital officially diagnosed vitiligo but told me that there was no treatment worth doing - which brings me to where I am now. I am currently waiting for an appointment to be hooked up with some skin camouflage. If you have one autoimmune condition, you are likely to get another, which brings us to...
When I was diagnosed with vitiligo, I was asked to go back to hospital for some blood tests to make sure that I didn't have any other autoimmune conditions. The clinic was only open at times when I would have to go after uni and to be honest, I couldn't be bothered and left it at that. This was in November.
After new year I started to feel funny, a bit dizzy, very cold and not quite right. When I woke up in the night with heart palpitations and my heart skipping a beat every time I tried to go to sleep I thought it was time to visit the doctor. Once I got my results it was clear that my decision to not get my bloods done might have been a mistake. Although my Thyroid was not officially under active, it was borderline and because I was symptomatic my doctor gave me medicine. It has been raised a little since, but it has mostly been stable and I have felt better in this respect.
I have wondered whether this has also been triggered by pregnancy - not directly, but as a result of being related to my vitiligo which went nuts during the latter half of my pregnancy. It may be a coincidence, but it has certainly made me more wary and I will be extra vigilant during my next pregnancy.
I wanted to share my story as I imagine that there must be many others out there like me who have either had problems with autoimmune conditions during pregnancy or who have started with one at this time. You are not alone, and as much of a pain as it is, these conditions can generally be managed. Vitiligo is a little harder to manage, but if you look after yourself and don't let yourself get too stressed, this may help (as I have read previously that stress can be trigger for the condition.)
Have you been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition during pregnancy, or struggled with one? I would love to hear your stories and how you managed, especially in the year following the birth. Remember to head to your doctor or tell your health visitor or midwife if you have any concerns about your health during or post pregnancy.