Is Running Ruining My Body?

I don't like to share medical issues here before I know what's going on and how I'm going to fix them. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for what I've been dealing with and I feel like pouring my heart out to you all now. This has been a tough one for me to write so please be gentle with me. Before I get into my current issues I need to give a bit of medical background. Over the last 10 years I have been diagnosed with the following:

TMJ Disorder. I've had episodes of pain that would last a few days over the course of the last few years but I've been on full TMJ lock-down since mid-summer. It's been brought on by stress (I hold stress in my upper back which impacts the jaw muscles), grinding my teeth at night, and this summers 12 hour dental ordeal. Self-massage with trigger point that I talked about before has helped, but I've been in pretty excruciating pain for months now and even the chiropractor & massage isn't helping anymore.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I've been virtually symptom-free for years since eliminating most daily/gluten products.

Hashimoto's Thyroiditis.  I was diagnosed with this in April and my extreme fatigue improved significantly after finding my perfect dose of medication (currently on 100 mg of Synthroid.)

That brings us to today.

I couldn't think of a coherent way to even began to explain what's been going on. So I drew a picture.

My Life

Basically, I'm now dealing with three main issues: Ischemic Colitis, Hormone Imbalance, and TMJ. All of which may be worsened by running.

Doctor One. I went to a gastroenterologist a few weeks ago who said she suspected I was suffering from Ischemic Colitis. Basically, when you run your circulatory system stops sending blood to internal organs, particularly your digestive track. Approximately 30% of runners struggle with this disorder and it ain't pretty (google it for a list of symptoms.) She wanted to do a colonoscopy,  blood work and take an X-ray of my abdomen just to rule out irritable bowel disorder. Well - that all cost over 2k and I don't have that kind of money to 'just rule out' things she was already pretty confident I didn't have so I'm not doing them anytime soon. She told me to cut the advil (I was taking 10-12 a day on really, really bad days) and switch to tylenol.

Doctor Two. My other doctor (who's been treating me for my Hashimotos) was concerned that I hadn't regained a regular menstrual cycle since my thyroid levels have been normal for months now. I told her I was dealing with excessive fatigue, weight gain/water retention & panic attacks and she checked my estrogen levels. Sure enough - I have none. Literally, none. I've seen other female runners struggle with this so I wasn't totally shocked. She asked that I get an ultrasound done of my lady parts asap so I did, and A WEEK LATER I finally got the results. Totally normal looking! So, she consulted with some other physicians and they wanted to do more blood work and a CT scan of my brain to check for a tumor on my pituitary gland.

Are you effing kidding me?! Not only did I have the lyric "I have a headache but it's not a tumor" stuck in my head for weeks, but I was so frustrated that no one wanted to listen to me when I said it's because of running!

Doctor Three. Chiropractor has said my back is screwed. Even with regular adjustments it's going to take a while for the tension in my upper back/shoulders to get better since I've been letting my stress build up there for years. I also tend to run with my shoulders pulled forward so doing that for 10-15 hours a week has compounded the situation further. Over the last 2 months I think I've gone a total of 3 days without taking either advil, tylenol or a muscle relaxant (or a combination of them.) They make my fatigue even worse and I hate feeling like a zombie. I'm trying cut way back (down to 2-3 tylenol a day!) I'm sleeping on my back now, meditating more, trying to remain calm (which is hard with all the panic attacks I've been having with no estrogen), using a heating pad constantly on my back/jaw and drinking kava tea nightly to help relax.

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I don't think running has caused any of this. As you can see with my medical history I was kind of a hot mess in the making. All of these symptoms got dramatically worse over the last year, and I started training for my first half a year ago. I don't think that's a coincidence.

My goal is to find a way to keep running while re-balancing my hormones. Thankfully, my ischemic colitis symptoms have improved significantly since I cut out the advil and eat in smaller portions on long runs (50 calories at a time versus 100.) I've looked into natural ways to boost estrogen (eating more soy and flax!) but I'm afraid it's not going to be enough. I've become a mini-expert on the endocrine system over the last few months and I've read a lot of scary things about hormone replacement therapy.

I'm so tired of tests, and not knowing. I took a few weeks off after the last round because I'm just so over it all. I'm tired of waking up feeling more tired then I did when I went to sleep. I'm tired of jaw pain so distracting I can't think straight at work. I'm tired of having a panic attack over the craziest things that I can't rationalize my way out of (like when my tofu crumbled when I cut it on Sunday.)

I just want to feel normal again. Whatever that feels like.

Further Reading:

The Mayo Clinic's Guide to Ischemic Colitis

Great article from Runners World that discusses estrogen deficiency in female runners

WebMD's basics on Estrogen and Testosterone