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Feeling Off After Delivery? Your Thyroid May Be To Blame

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It’s no secret that pregnancy and childbirth send a woman’s body through a rollercoaster of new changes.

But did you know that 5 to 10 percent of new mothers struggle with symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis—an inflammation of the thyroid that occurs after pregnancy?

What is postpartum thyroiditis?

“‘Thyroiditis’ simply means inflammation of the thyroid, which is a small gland in the neck that secretes hormones and regulates metabolism,” said Mon Health Obstetrics & Gynecology’s Dr. Erica Arthurs. “Pregnancy and childbirth have an intense effect on hormone levels, so we expect to see small, temporary changes in the thyroid—but some extreme changes, like those associated with postpartum thyroiditis, are not normal.”

According to Dr. Arthurs, postpartum thyroiditis usually comes in two stages.

“When we see cases of postpartum thyroiditis after a woman gives birth, hyperthyroidism, which is an overproduction of thyroid hormones, typically comes first,” said Dr. Arthurs. “Some women with postpartum thyroiditis will find thyroid levels return to normal after this period, while others will dip into hypothyroidism, which is the opposite, underproduction of thyroid hormones.”

The hyperthyroidism stage of postpartum thyroiditis can last anywhere from 2 to 4 months, according to the American Thyroid Association.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism:

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Hyperactivity and restlessness

Since symptoms of hyperthyroidism are similar to those that a mom adjusting to life with a new baby might experience, it’s possible for postpartum thyroiditis to go undiagnosed in early stages.

“Women with postpartum thyroiditis more commonly go to the doctor once they’ve entered the hypothyroidism stage,” said Dr. Arthurs.

Those who move on to experience hypothyroidism can see symptoms approach 4 to 8 months after delivery, and last anywhere from to 9 to 12 months, according to the American Thyroid Association.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • High cholesterol

What causes postpartum thyroiditis?

“We aren’t quite sure what causes some women to have postpartum thyroiditis,” says Dr. Arthurs. “But research does believe it to be an autoimmune condition, and we know you’re more likely to have postpartum thyroiditis if you have certain risk factors.”

Risk factors for postpartum thyroiditis, according to the American Thyroid Association, are:

  • Pre-existing autoimmune disorders (such as Type 1, or juvenile onset, Diabetes Mellitus)
  • Positive anti-thyroid antibodies
  • History of previous postpartum thyroiditis
  • Family history of thyroid dysfunction

When should you see a doctor?

“If you’re a few weeks postpartum and are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, you should give your doctor a call,” said Dr. Arthurs. “It could be that you’re still adjusting to postpartum life—or, it could be something more serious like thyroid dysfunction or a postpartum mood disorder, so it’s important that we screen you for these issues if you’re just not feeling right.”

To learn more about thyroid health during pregnancy and the postpartum period, visit the American Thyroid Association’s online resources.

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Arthurs.