Family Life

Postpartum thyroiditis: Thyroid problems after pregnancy

When you come home from the hospital with a newborn baby, you will quite naturally feel exhausted, weak, emotional, and just plain terrible at times. After all, you’ve been carrying a baby for nine, long months and with delivery, a flood of hormones change swiftly, affecting your body in multiple ways. This abrupt change can be responsible for the postpartum blues, but it can also cause postpartum thyroiditis.

What is postpartum thyroiditis?

The thyroid is a central gland in the body, so it’s no surprise that when it has problems, your whole body is affected. According to the American Thyroid Society, more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime, a significant finding considering the thyroid produces a hormone that influences every cell, tissue, and organ in the body.

In postpartum thyroiditis, the thyroid becomes inflamed, which impairs function. The hypothyroid phase occurs when your thyroid gland does not produce enough of certain important hormones to supply the body. The hyperthyroid phase is diagnosed when the thyroid produces too much of the hormone thyroxine.

Why does postpartum thyroiditis occur?

Postpartum thyroiditis occurs when a woman’s antibodies attack the thyroid and cause inflammation. It occurs in approximately five to 10 percent of women. If you suffer from an autoimmune disorder, diabetes, or have a previous history of thyroid problems, your risk is higher. It is typically diagnosed two to four months postpartum but can develop up to eight months after you deliver.

What are the signs and symptoms?

In the hyperthyroid phase, which usually lasts one to three months, a woman may experience insomnia, palpitations, fatigue, weight loss, and irritability. During the hypothyroid phase, which lasts nine to 12 months, symptoms involve fatigue, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, and depression.

Dr. Moshe Dekel, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist who regularly treats thyroid patients, believes that not all mothers are being properly diagnosed.

“There are many more women exhibiting clear clinical signs of hypothyroidism that are not being treated,” Dr. Dekel says.

Furthermore, thyroid testing is not part of the routine, six-week checkup, and, according to Dr. Dekel, many doctors are not trained to look for it. He recommends that moms “see a physician who is willing and able to think ‘out of the box,’ and who is also willing to do the necessary testing and pay attention to the clinical presentation.”

How is postpartum thyroiditis treated?

Treatment is key. Most symptoms can be alleviated through medication, including levothyroxine, analgesics, or steroids, depending on the phase you are in. The good news is that, with treatment, most moms can expect to return to normal thyroid function within 12–18 months of the onset of symptoms. Thyroid disorder isn’t fatal, but it can make you feel pretty miserable, so don’t let something so easily treatable take time away from enjoying your new baby.

Danielle Sullivan is a writer living in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @Deewrite.

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