Hello, my name is Rachel, and I am 31, will be 32 in 2 weeks.
I have been suffering from this medical condition, which I believe to be Cushing’s Syndrome, Adrenal Fatigue, or Pheochromocytoma, or maybe a mixture of all 3. I have had this for around 16 years, maybe longer, as I have had the classic “buffalo hump” on the back of my neck since I was 9 years old and have always had trouble with my weight. I have been on many diets since mid-childhood.
When I was around 13, I discovered a weight loss supplement, which I diligently took and lost 20 pounds over a 2-year period. I felt the best I have ever felt my entire life. I eventually had to stop taking it, though, due to not being allowed to bring any meds or supplements to my high school. I was not totally thin, but I looked pretty good. But during that first year of high school, my insomnia returned, and the rest of my symptoms started to emerge.
Autumn 1999 (when I was 14): I started getting daily headaches. Sometimes, they were minor, where I could ignore them, and other times they were so debilitating that I had to miss school. Because I wasn’t allowed to bring medication to school, I had to take Ibuprofen every morning as a preventative.
Autumn 2000: I suddenly gained 20 pounds in one month without changing anything in my diet. The fat was especially much around my face, neck, and torso.
Spring 2001: I developed fatigue, loss of concentration or “spacey-ness”, and being easily physically and mentally drained. I lost contact with many of my neighborhood friends, since I avoided lengthy times spent with them, and sometimes wouldn’t be when them at all because of not having enough energy.
Autumn 2001: Thinking I had hypothyroidism, I had my first doctor’s appointment over these symptoms, especially of the weight gain that was getting worse. Nothing showed up in tests, and the doctor wanted to put me on a 900 calorie diet. I never went back.
Summer 2002: My menstrual cycles became irregular, skipping sometimes 2 or 3 months at a time. Finally, they stopped altogether. I also gained another 20 pounds that upcoming school semester (16 weeks).
Summer 2003: I went to another doctor. She put me on birth control pills to get my menstrual cycles back. It helped a little, but they were very light with severe cramping. I gained an additional 20 pounds from the birth control pills and did not feel good. Once I got off of them, my menstruation stopped again, and I never lost those 20 pounds.
Autumn 2003: I went to another doctor from the University of Chicago. He tested various hormones and found that my androgen levels (mainly testosterone) were so high that it was off the charts. He thought that I might have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, so he entered me in several studies he was conducting for people with PCOS. I was given several test medications and had more tests done testing insulin resistance, glucose tolerance, and other things. Nothing came up positive. During that time, I also had an ultrasound done on my ovaries to check for cysts. Nothing showed up. After other tests were done, he concluded that I did not have PCOS, and that I might actually have Cushing’s Syndrome. I couldn’t go back to him, though, as his regular appointments without the studies were really costly. This whole time of the studies lasted till summer of 2004.
I also gained an additional 30 pounds during this time.
>My symptoms of fatigue and loss of concentration continued to worsen, so I had to become a part time student to avoid exhaustion with classes. I felt my worst usually starting around 1 or 2pm, and lasting till around 5pm.
Summer 2005: Diarrhea started abruptly and has been continuing ever since. A year later, I had discovered that caffeine could cause it, so I got off of all caffeine, which alleviated it for a few months. However, it returned shortly after, blossoming into 3 different kinds and becoming worse and more frequent over the years. I used to have it only at night, but now, I have it in the morning as well, and some at night, and sometimes some in the afternoon. I can have even 5 or more bouts of it a day, which makes it difficult for me in any public place. It slows me down in the mornings (as I sometimes have to spend an hour in the restroom) and often makes me late for things.
2006-2010: I have gone to many doctors over this time, each one testing my cortisol, TSH, T3 and T4, testosterone, DHEA, progesterone, and insulin levels, and each one coming up with nothing abnormal except high testosterone.
Spring 2009: I developed a candida skin infection that has been reoccurring since then. Antifungals do not take it away, only antibiotic ointments. However, even the antibiotic ointments do not take it completely away, as it keeps reoccurring and showing discoloration in spots where it had been previously.
Spring 2010: Episodes of light-headedness, shortness of breath, and rapid heart rate started appearing, ranging anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour in duration. They would come completely at random, sometimes 3 or more times a week, and sometimes not for several months.
2011: I developed slow motility, where it takes hours for my meals to digest. This made it hard for me to get to bed at a normal bedtime like 10pm, since I couldn’t lie down without getting horribly nauseous. This also affected my diarrhea, making it where I have to push to make it come out, since my intestines do not contract much to squeeze it out or they contract very slowly.
Summer and Autumn 2011: I went to 2 doctors in New York who also tested my cortisol levels and catecholamine levels to test for pheocromocytoma, which all came out normal. I also had an MRI done on my brain to check for growths on my pituitary gland. Nothing showed up with that, either. I also went to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. My results in those tests also were all normal, and no diagnosis was made.
Spring 2012: My menstruation returned to regular monthly cycles.
Winter/Spring 2013: I suddenly started to become sensitive to cold, so winter became almost unbearable for me. This cold sensitivity has been increasing every year thereafter. Even temperatures in the 60-degree Fahrenheit range make me feel chilled and forced me to dress in double and triple layers of clothing.
Also, around this time, my fatigue reached a new level of severity, making my “dead” time duration between 12pm-6pm.
Spring 2014: My menstrual cycles suddenly changed again, where I had constant menstruation for over 3 months.
2015: My fatigue, again, worsened, making me so tired that I could fall asleep throughout the afternoon and most of the evening. This extreme tiredness would come especially shortly after I would eat a meal, particularly in the midday. This made studying for my classes very difficult and time consuming, since I was so slow.
I also started to notice I could feel a small lump on my upper left side, just below my ribcage. This lump started out the size of a golf ball and has increased to the size of a baseball. It makes me feel nauseous if it’s pressed on with little pressure and hurts when it’s pressed on hard.
My menstrual cycles became irregular again and have stayed that way ever since.
Spring 2016: After getting nowhere with endocrinologists, I went to see a gastroenterologist because of my diarrhea and lump. A CAT scan was done of my abdominal area showing nothing abnormal. In fact, the space where the lump should be in the pictures just shows empty blackness, no organs or growths whatsoever.
Over the course of these years, I have done a lot of my own research and have noticed that my symptoms all match 3 possible conditions: Cushing’s Syndrome, Adrenal Fatigue, and Pheocromocytoma. I am wondering if all these three conditions can coexist in the same body. I know that Cushing’s results from a growth on either the pituitary gland or the adrenal cortex of the adrenal gland, making the adrenal gland produce too much cortisol.
I also know that pheocromocytoma results from a growth on the medulla of the adrenal gland, producing high levels of catecholamines, which, for some reason, does not always show up in a blood test. And I know that adrenal fatigue results when the adrenal glands become exhausted from constantly producing high levels of cortisol during stress that lasts over a long period of time, so they don’t produce enough. So could it be that I have a growth on one of my adrenal glands that extends from the adrenal cortex into the adrenal medulla, causing the symptoms of Cushing’s and pheocromocytoma, while my other adrenal gland has adrenal fatigue? That would make sense why nothing shows up on the tests, because one adrenal gland is producing too much cortisol, and the other is not producing enough. So the two would cancel each other out, yet I could still experience symptoms.
I have gone to 12 doctors over these 16 years, and not a one has ever come up with a diagnosis or even cared about investigating the cause. They resist doing further testing and evaluating, because nothing shows up in the initial blood and urine tests. They don’t even believe me and think that it must be depression or that I am just making it all up. I have been criticized, rebuked, and laughed at by them. I even had a doctor chuckle as he told me, “You better get your periods back or you could get cancer of the uterus”. I have run out of doctors and have basically given up hope.
So where I am right now, spring 2017: My symptoms have gotten so bad that I am almost debilitated. Every day, I always wake up feeling just as tired as I did the night before. No matter how much sleep I get, I do not feel rejuvenated whatsoever. This makes it impossible for me to get up before noon, so often times, I am just eating breakfast/lunch around 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I have no energy all day long, and the fatigue makes me unable to do much of anything during the times I am awake. Most of the time, I feel like I am moving in slow motion, because time seems to pass by so quickly. I have to take frequent breaks from mental or physical tasks just to regain some strength and energy. I try to avoid social events, as I don’t have the energy to be with people and get easily stressed and drained. So I am alone much of the time. I can only take one class per semester in college now, as I don’t have enough energy to study.
I have acquired muscle weakness in my arms, hands and legs, that makes it incredibly difficult, and sometimes painful, to go up and down stairs, along with doing the process of going from sitting to standing or vise-versa. I appear as “lazy” since I can’t even get up from my chair to get something that is just a few feet away from me. The muscle weakness in my arms and hands makes it difficult to even do handwriting.
My memory if often foggy, also making studying difficult, as I can’t remember what I am reading. Many times, if a friend asks me what I have done during the last few days, I can’t remember. I can experience a fun event, and I still will forget and have to force myself to think about what it was. I feel like in a fog all day.
Almost every day, I will wake up with a headache, or I will get one over the course of the day. I have to take painkillers, such as Alleve, everyday just to keep my headaches under control. And sometimes, my headaches are so bad that they debilitate me. With those kinds of headaches, taking up to 12 Alleve in one day will not take them away.
Painful diarrhea keeps me in the restroom sometimes up to an hour or longer with each bout. I have to eat my evening meal earlier and earlier, so I don’t have to sit up late waiting for it to digest. I even have to keep from lying down for over an hour after drinking just water.
My immune system is also impaired, so I can get sick easily and have reoccurring candida infections. Colds and the flu hit me hard, often debilitating me for weeks. I take vitamin D3 to enhance my immune system to not get sick as often, since I have to ride the train and bus going to and from school. I have also acquired more allergies over these years. My nose has gotten really sensitive to perfumes and fragrances. I never used to be allergic to animals, but now, I can’t even go into a house that has pets without getting a bad sore throat and runny nose for 3 days after. And in general, I have noticed my lungs and nasal passages are producing more mucous, so I have to keep coughing and blowing my nose frequently, or I get a sore throat.
My menstrual cycles are very light and almost non-existent. I haven’t had one since January, and it’s now the beginning of April.
I am now 100 pounds overweight and can’t lose it, even with the same weight loss supplement I took before my first year of high school. The majority of the fat is around my face, neck, and torso, with some now accumulating on my upper arms and upper legs and pale purple stretch marks on my belly and upper arms. I have the typical fat distribution and appearance of Cushing’s Syndrome.
I still get the episodes where I experience a rapid heart rate, light-headedness, and shortness of breath. During those times, I have to breathe harder and just stop whatever I am doing. I have even almost felt like passing out at times.
I will be graduating in 4 weeks and am very afraid, as I don’t know how I will handle the stress and demands of a full time job, especially if I have to interact with people. I have very few friends, and half of my own family doesn’t believe me when I talk about my condition. I feel ugly and boring and have become very depressed. Is there ANYONE IN THE WORLD who will help me??? I hope someone (like a doctor perhaps) will read this bio of mine, and have compassion in their heart and be eager to help me.
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