FOR Irene Fox, everything seemed to go wrong all at once. It was 1999 and she thought her life was falling apart. She felt her relationships had deteriorated.
Her face and stomach became bloated. Meanwhile, her arms and legs became very thin. Her blood pressure was extremely high. The sunlight irritated her eyes.
One day the mother-of-two from Bray, Co Wicklow, lost the use of her leg. Then she started falling. "I was losing power in my arms and legs," she recalled.
Irene was 47, so, she reasoned, maybe it was just the menopause. But she went to the doctor and found out that it wasn't. She was sent to St Columcille's Hospital in Loughlinstown for a battery of tests which went on for more than two years.
In 2002 Irene was diagnosed with Cushings Syndrome, following an MRI scan. It emerged that a tumour on her pituitary gland was causing an excess production of cortisol, the stress-relieving hormone. She had an operation in Beaumont Hospital in August 2003.
"Before the operation I couldn't walk for more than a few stops before falling down," she recalls.
Irene's condition did not improve following the operation, however. She discovered she was unable to keep any food down. In October she collapsed and was brought back to Loughlinstown where she stayed until January 2004.
"I was in intensive care for two weeks and then in the general hospital for 10 weeks."
Irene, now aged 59, was told she had to increase the amount of steroids she was on.
"I take hydrocortisone and I wear a hydrocortisone bracelet to inform people that I take it."
These days the mood swings are gone and her eyesight is better. "I walk with a stick but I don't fall any more -- the symptoms were caused by the tumour on the pituitary gland. I'm told that it affects different people in different ways."
There should be more public awareness about the pituitary gland and its functions, she says.
"I feel there should be more awareness of the pituitary gland and what can happen if anything goes wrong -- it's one of these things that people just don't seem to know much about."