Some of the bodily changes that a woman can experience after giving birth include hormonal imbalances, such as postpartum thyroid issues or postpartum thyroiditis. What happens in this condition, and what can women do about it?
Postpartum thyroiditis, defined
The butterfly-shaped thyroid gland, situated in the lower part of the neck, produces thyroid hormones. Our body uses these hormones to regulate our metabolic rate or the way our cells use energy.
In other words, thyroid hormones are essential for almost every organ in our body. Hence, it’s not surprising that when the thyroid gland sustains problems, it can affect our overall wellbeing.
For instance, a woman who develops postpartum thyroiditis (PPT), a condition wherein a previously normal thyroid gland becomes inflamed in the first year of giving birth, miscarriage, or abortion, may observe various physical and mental discomforts.
The exact cause of this condition is still unknown, but medical experts associate it with the autoimmune thyroid condition that “flares” after childbirth. But, for the record, PPT is pretty rare. In fact, according to reports, only about 3% of women develop this condition.
Who’s at risk of developing postpartum thyroid issues? Researchers have concluded that women who have the following conditions are more likely to get PPT:
- High concentration of anti-thyroid antibodies early in their pregnancy and after childbirth. Anti-thyroid antibodies attack the thyroid gland, which may result in PPT.
- Autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes and Lupus
- A family history of thyroid problems
Finally, a personal history of thyroid issues, including PPT, also increases a woman’s risk.
Signs and symptoms
Typically, someone who has postpartum thyroid issues due to classic PPT experiences 2 phases: an initial thyroid inflammation phase resulting in hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid, and then a hypothyroidism phase or underactive thyroid.
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
Early on in the disease, a woman may not notice any symptoms at all. Still, mild signs pointing to hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid releases too much thyroid hormone, may occur 1 to 4 months after giving birth and last anywhere from 1 to 3 months.
Increased thyroid hormones make our body work too fast and lead to symptoms like:
- Palpitations or rapid heart rate
- Warm feeling or increased heat sensitivity
- Weight loss
- Loss of focus
- Muscle weakness
Please note that women find it hard to notice the symptoms because it’s not surprising to feel tired, weak, and nervous after giving birth.
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
After being abnormally active, thyroid cells may sustain damages. This may lead to an underactive thyroid, which means that the gland is not secreting enough thyroid hormones.
Please note that the following signs may occur 4 to 6 weeks after the symptoms of hyperthyroidism clear up, and they may last for 6 to 12 months:
- Aversion to cold or increased sensitivity to cold
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Muscle pain
Most postpartum thyroiditis cases resolve within 12 to 18 months after the onset of symptoms; however, some women do not recover from having underactive thyroid and end up developing hypothyroidism.
Other types of postpartum thyroiditis
Besides the classic PPT we discussed where hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism happen consecutively, there are 2 other types of the condition. They are:
- Isolated thyrotoxicosis, where you experience a period of hyperthyroidism with no hypothyroidism. Most cases of isolated thyrotoxicosis also resolve on their own.
- Isolated hypothyroidism, where you only have a period of hypothyroidism. Reports say that about half of women with PPT develop this condition.
Treatment for postpartum thyroid issues
The management for postpartum thyroiditis depends on your general health, age, and the severity of your symptoms.
Generally, if you are at the overactive thyroid stage or only have hyperthyroidism, the doctor may order prednisone, beta-blockers, or both. These medications reduce inflammation and slow down body processes.
On the other hand, in case you’re at the underactive thyroid stage or only have hypothyroidism, the doctor may consider hormone replacement therapy to compensate for your low thyroid hormone levels.
Classic postpartum thyroiditis is a condition wherein a woman who previously has a normal thyroid experiences inflammation. This leads to a phase of hyperthyroidism symptoms followed by signs of hypothyroidism.
Finally, most cases of PPT resolve after a year or so, but some women who do not recover from having an underactive hormone eventually develop hypothyroidism.
Learn more about Women’s Health here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.