Medical Conditions



Postpartum Thyroiditis

What is postpartum thyroiditis?

In addition to playing an important role in the development of a growing fetus, proper thyroid hormone levels also help to minimize the chance of any thyroid complications after delivery. One particular postpartum complication is postpartum thyroiditis, a condition characterized by an inflamed thyroid gland. Postpartum thyroiditis is not a typical infection, however. The gland does become inflamed, but the cause is unknown. Postpartum thyroiditis is a condition that results in temporary hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), followed by temporary hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Postpartum thyroiditis is fairly common. In fact, 5 to 10 percent of women develop the disease after giving birth, according to the American Thyroid Association (ATA).

Who is at risk for postpartum thyroiditis?

Certain risk factors may help predict who is at an increased risk for developing postpartum thyroiditis, according to the ATA. These include:

  • A prior history of thyroid disorder
  • Having type 1 diabetes
  • The presence of antithyroid antibodies, for example, those antibodies that have developed against the thyroid in response to the injury (Researchers know that women are four times more likely than men to have thyroid antibodies in their blood, indicating thyroiditis. The levels of antibodies increase with age, often leading to hypothyroidism later in life.)
  • A history of postpartum thyroiditis after other pregnancies

What are the symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis?

When the thyroid becomes inflamed, it will first emit large quantities of thyroid hormone into the bloodstream (hyperthyroidism). During this phase, most women are unaware of any symptoms, which are often mild and short-lived. However, once this initial phase passes, a woman either recovers completely or has sustained damage to her thyroid. If the thyroid gland was damaged, this damagetogether with a depleted reservoir of thyroid hormonescan lead to hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). This condition, too, may also clear up or result in further damage and complications.

The following are the most common symptoms associated with the hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism that accompany postpartum thyroiditis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

Hyperthyroidism
(overactive thyroid)
Hypothyroidism
(underactive thyroid)
Feeling warm Feeling tired
Experiencing muscle weakness Constipation
Feeling tremulous Loss of memory
Experiencing anxieties Cannot tolerate cold weather
Rapid heartbeat Cramps in the muscles
Loss of concentration Feeling weak
Weight loss Weight gain

Postpartum thyroiditis symptoms may not appear until several months after childbirth. Symptoms are also often mistaken for normal signs of recovery from childbirth. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is postpartum thyroiditis diagnosed?

Diagnostic procedures used to detect postpartum thyroiditis depend on the phase of the disease. If symptoms of hyperthyroidism are present, a radioactive iodine uptake test can often determine whether it is postpartum thyroiditis or Graves' disease, the most common form of hyperthyroidism. A blood test to measure levels of thyroid hormones (T4) and thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH) can usually determine whether the mother has hypothyroidism.

What is the treatment for postpartum thyroiditis?

Specific treatment for postpartum thyroiditis will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment depends on the phase of the disease and the degree of symptoms the woman is experiencing. According to the ATA, it is very important for women to have ongoing thyroid monitoring since 80 percent of women with this diagnosis will have normal thyroid function within 12 to 18 months after the onset of symptoms.

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Online Resources of High-Risk Pregnancy

Last reviewed: 4/30/2013