Moussa Diarra was diagnosed with Graves’ disease in 2022. As a professional footballer, he really struggled with the symptoms and how it affected his career. He’s sharing his story to let others know they are not alone and to encourage them to open up to those around them about what they are going through.

What were your symptoms?

I’ve been playing football at a professional level for more than 10 years. I started experiencing symptoms during the pre-season in the summer of 2022 when I was playing for Barnet FC. This is a physically difficult time as it is. But I was feeling more tired than usual during and after training. I lost a lot of strength and couldn’t lift the same amount of weight. I then started to struggle with my breathing, having to take regular breaks to catch my breath. 

Within a week or so of symptoms starting, I couldn’t sleep at night and it felt like my heart was pounding fast, even when I was just lying down. I kept going to training, but I was exhausted before we even started. I would get home and go straight to bed for the rest of the day and night. I also lost a lot of weight - 12 kilos in six weeks. Within a few weeks, my body was aching, and I felt so weak that it was a struggle to even walk up or down the stairs. My eyes were also affected. My vision became blurred on and off.

Somehow, I pushed through pre-season but didn't make it through the first game of the season, as I felt so weak and couldn’t catch my breath. I lay down on the pitch until the medical team took me out. 

How was your condition picked up?

At the start, everyone thought it was normal pre-season exhaustion. But I knew it wasn’t normal. Some people suggested it could be a vitamin deficiency or long Covid. I went to the hospital one day after training and the initial blood tests were normal, but they didn’t test my thyroid function.

When I wasn’t able to make it through the first game, and with the amount of weight that I had lost, the football club arranged for more tests. This showed a problem with my thyroid levels and I was referred to an endocrinologist who did more tests and diagnosed Graves’ disease.

It was about six weeks between symptoms starting and diagnosis, which was a really scary time, but I am grateful to have had quick access to specialists. 

Did you know much about thyroid disorders before this?

No. I received the diagnosis from the doctor at the football club just before training one morning. I had never heard of Graves’ disease and knew nothing about thyroid function, but it sounded really scary, especially with how much the symptoms were affecting me. I started doing research straight away, and also learned more from the doctors.

What treatment have you undergone and how do you feel now? 

I was prescribed propranolol to deal with some of the immediate symptoms, like rapid heartbeat. I was put on a block and replace treatment plan, taking carbimazole and levothyroxine. It took a few months, and regular blood tests, to get the dosage right. I was also really careful with my diet, avoiding sugar, processed and refined food. I was initially told I would need surgery to remove my thyroid, which I wouldn’t do. Within a year of medication, my thyroid levels returned to normal and I’m now in remission. I am back on the pitch, playing regularly, and feeling stronger than ever.

What part of your diagnosis and treatment have you found especially difficult?

The medication had side effects. I especially struggled during the first few weeks of the treatment. I felt lethargic and the medication seemed to affect my mood. The whole journey from symptoms to diagnosis to treatment had a big effect on me physically and mentally.

As a professional athlete, I really struggled with the possibility that I might not feel better and that my career could be over. Football has been my passion, and my body has been my living since I was very young. It really hurt to think that it could be over because of something out of my control, and, for the first time, I seriously had to contemplate life after football. I wasn’t able to play for most of the season, but as I started to feel better, I was determined to build my fitness back. 

Was there anything that particularly helped you understand more about your condition or to feel better supported?

My endocrinologist was reassuring and good at explaining things. I also did a lot of research online to better understand the condition. One thing that helped was hearing or reading other people’s stories, including those on the British Thyroid Foundation website. It was comforting to know that other people have gone through this and come out the other side. But I struggled to find information, or stories, from athletes that could offer some reassurance. Not many people knew what I was going through at the time, as I didn’t want to worry everyone and it felt like people didn’t understand what I was battling. I am fortunate to have a supportive partner who helped me through it, as well as support from family and friends.

Is there anything you would like to say to others who may be on a similar journey?

Everything can feel really overwhelming at first. It can be a long journey to feeling better, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. I’d also advise others to be more open than I was about what they are experiencing and how they are feeling. It can be difficult for people to understand what you are going through, but they can still be there for you.

More information

Living with hyperthyroidism 

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