postpartum tyroiditis

What is postpartum thyroiditis?

Postpartum thyroiditis is a relatively rare condition that affects some women after pregnancy. An estimated 5% of women may experience this in the year after giving birth.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is located in the lower front of the neck. The thyroid makes hormones that help the body use energy, stay warm, and keep organs such as the brain, heart, and muscles working.

Postpartum thyroiditis can result in hyperthyroidism (high thyroid hormone levels in the blood) and sometimes hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels in the blood). Hyperthyroidism occurs first, followed by hypothyroidism.

Who gets postpartum thyroiditis?

Women who have Type 1 diabetes or those who have a history of thyroid dysfunction are at higher risk for postpartum thyroiditis. Women with a family history of thyroid dysfunction are also at higher risk of developing postpartum thyroid. Presence of microsomal antibodies (thyroid specific antibodies) also makes women more susceptible to thyroid dysfunction including postpartum thyroiditis.

What causes postpartum thyroiditis?

Postpartum thyroid is caused by antithyroid antibodies attacking the thyroid. This attack causes the thyroid to become inflamed.

It is not known why the antibodies attack the thyroid. However, it is believed that women who develop the condition may have had an underlying autoimmune thyroid condition, without symptoms.

What are the symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis?

In the first phase of postpartum thyroid - hyperthyroidism - most women will not notice any symptoms. This phase usually takes place between 1 to 6 months after giving birth.

If a woman does notice unusual symptoms within this phase, they may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling warm
  • Feeling anxious
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Excessive hair loss

It is not until the second phase of postpartum thyroid — hypothyroidism — that most women will notice symptoms. This phase usually takes place 4 to 8 months after giving birth. It can last as long as a year and then resolve by itself. A small group of women continue to stay hypothyroid for the rest of their lives.

These symptoms may include:

  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation
  • Muscle pain
  • Aversion to the cold

You should seek prompt medical attention if you notice any of these symptoms.

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