What Is Postpartum Thyroiditis?

The period immediately after the birth of your baby and up to about six weeks later is defined as the postpartum period. This period is critical for the mother because bodily changes that occurred during nine months of pregnancy now have to revert to a non-pregnant body. During this critical period, many health issues may arise. You may have heard of postpartum depression which is gaining exposure recently as many celebrities are admitting to experiencing this condition.

What Is Postpartum Thyroiditis?

The butterfly-shaped, thyroid gland is located on the front and at the base of the neck. This gland produces hormones crucial for the control of numerous bodily functions like heart rate and body temperature. Postpartum thyroiditis occurs when the thyroid gland becomes inflamed within the first year after giving birth. The inflammation can last for weeks or months and in many cases, it is able to resolve spontaneously. However, some women may have permanent problems.

Causes of Postpartum Thyroiditis

The precise reason why this condition develops is not very clear. It is believed that women who get this disease have an existing autoimmune thyroid disorder which flares up when the body re-adjusts the immune levels after childbirth. Your immune system sees these changes as unhealthy and may attack and destroy some cells in the thyroid gland.

Risk Factors

You may be more likely to develop postpartum thyroiditis if you have the following conditions:

  • Smoking
  • Family history of thyroid disease
  • Previous miscarriage or abortion
  • Previous thyroid issues in earlier pregnancies
  • Abnormally high levels of thyroid antibodies in early pregnancy
  • Type 1 diabetes

Symptoms of Postpartum Thyroiditis

The condition can initially result in an overactive thyroid which then develops over time to an underactive gland. In many women, there are no obvious symptoms. Although you may get confused, there are signs that you can watch out for.

Early Signs

The following are the signs when the thyroid gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism):

  • Tremor
  • Sleeplessness
  • Feeling tired
  • Heart palpitations
  • Feeling nervous and anxious
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling hot and sweaty

Later Signs

Here are the signs when thyroid becomes underactive (hypothyroidism):

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Feeling cold
  • Constipation
  • Muscle aches
  • No energy and feeling tired all the time
  • Dry skin
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Slow heartbeat

When to See Your Doctor

If you experience any of the above symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor and you may be referred to an endocrinologist (doctor specialized in hormonal problems). Also see your doctor if you suspect that you are experiencing postpartum depression because preliminary research has shown a link between postpartum depression and postpartum thyroiditis.

How Is Postpartum Thyroiditis Diagnosed?

1. General Enquiry

Firstly, the doctor will ask you pertinent questions related to your symptoms and medical history. These questions may include:

  • How long have you experienced the symptoms?
  • Are your symptoms mild or relatively severe?
  • Do you have any family history of thyroid issues?
  • Are you taking any other medications?

2. Blood Tests

After the preliminary examination, the doctor will most likely confirm the diagnosis of postpartum thyroiditis with some blood tests. These tests will measure the levels of hormones in your blood, namely thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxin. If abnormal levels are detected, these tests will be repeated periodically.

3. Thyroid Scan

Your doctor may also require a thyroid scan. You will be given a contrast dye and a special machine that takes pictures of your thyroid gland.                 

Medical Treatments for Postpartum Thyroiditis

The type of treatment chosen is based on the severity of your condition. Milder symptoms may only be monitored to track if there is an improvement or not. If the condition does not resolve spontaneously, you can be given the following treatments:

  • Depending on whether you have an under/overactive thyroid gland, you will be given medicines that will either raise your thyroid hormone levels or decrease it.
  • Radioactive iodine may be given to destroy some thyroid gland cells to decease the levels of thyroid hormone.
  • You may be given a beta-blocker to control some of the symptoms like the heart palpitations.

About eighty percent of women with this condition recover well after taking medicine for some time. However, some women with thyroid antibodies may have to continue the hormone replacement lifelong. Meanwhile, you can relieve your symptoms by eating a healthy and nutritious diet that includes a variety fruits, vegetables, lean meat, fish and low-fat dairy products. Include regular exercise which will help you feel stronger and increase your energy levels. Ask your healthcare practitioner which exercises are safe for you.

Does Postpartum Thyroiditis Affect Breastfeeding?

A high level of thyroid hormone is required to start milk production after childbirth. Therefore, having an underactive thyroid gland will directly affect breastfeeding. Being positively diagnosed with postpartum thyroiditis is very manageable with the correct care and medication. You will still be able to breastfeed if you choose and experience the fulfillment of being a healthy mother to your new baby. The following are what you need to pay attention to when you're breastfeeding:

  • If you have been prescribed medication to normalize the thyroid levels, you should continue taking your medication. This medicine crosses into the breast milk but in minimum quantities, which will have no negative effects on the baby.
  • A thyroid scan is not advisable during lactation because the contrast dye you have to drink will go into the breast milk and affect the baby.

All Categories