Postpartum Thyroiditis

What is Postpartum Thyroiditis?

Occurring within the first year following childbirth, Postpartum Thyroiditis is a condition that results in an inflamed thyroid. It’s a temporary condition that’s sometimes attributed to the stress of being a new mother or as a possible symptom of other postpartum issues.

What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Thyroiditis?

Symptoms are generally mild at first and often assumed to be linked to the aftereffects of the pregnancy. Initial symptoms can include increased anxiety, irritability, and fatigue. Some women may have increased difficulty sleeping or insomnia. More noticeable symptoms experienced within the first 1-4 months after delivery may include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Heightened sensitivity to heat
  • Tremors

Hypothyroidism/Hyperthyroidism

The initial symptoms typically disappear after 1-3 months. Postpartum thyroiditis is often a two-stage condition that’s followed by either hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). These symptoms usually appear 4-8 months following delivery and last anywhere from several months to a year or more.

Hypothyroidism symptoms:

  • Heightened sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Lack of focus or concentration
  • General aches and pains
  • Noticeable lack of energy

Hyperthyroidism symptoms:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Feeling warm
  • Nervousness or anxiety

Postpartum Thyroiditis Causes

Postpartum thyroiditis is often the result of the body’s natural response to pregnancy. During pregnancy, the woman’s body must suppress its immune system in order to prevent antibodies from attacking. When the pregnancy is over, the immune system begins to rebuild strength, but this process may produce antibodies which are hostile to certain parts of the body. Often, the thyroid is a prime target for autoimmune antibodies.

Genetics certainly play a major role in the development of postpartum thyroiditis, with many women suffering from other autoimmune diseases too. Specifically, Hashimoto’s disease is exceptionally common in women with postpartum thyroiditis. It seems that certain HLA types are especially associated with postpartum thyroiditis. HLA B30 appears to be strongly associated with this disease and other thyroid conditions. There is speculation that certain bacteria may be involved based on studies of oral pathogens, but this is not considered a very important factor in the cause of postpartum thyroiditis.

How is Postpartum Thyroiditis Treated?

A blood test is performed to make an official diagnosis, which usually comes after symptoms are more apparent. Treatment depends on when the condition is detected. Beta blockers are sometimes prescribed to ease a rapid heartbeat. Thyroid hormone replacement may be recommended to treat hypothyroidism. Regular thyroid tests are performed to determine when treatment should stop.

Considered rare, postpartum thyroiditis is likely related to changes in hormones levels occurring during pregnancy. While there is no specific cause, an underlying autoimmune issue with the thyroid may be partly responsible. Thyroid function typically returns to normal within a year or so after initial symptoms appear. Some women may develop ongoing thyroid issues.

Postpartum Thyroiditis Prevention

The prevention of postpartum thyroiditis usually focuses on trying to make sure that the woman’s immune system is functioning in a healthy manner the entire time she is pregnant. The immune system is most vulnerable to this disease during the first few months after birth, but proper nutrition can do wonders to prevent this. Vitamin D levels are strongly correlated with this disorder, and patients with postpartum thyroiditis tend to have lower levels of vitamin D. Another key factor in preventing postpartum thyroiditis is the use of antibiotics after pregnancy. It appears that employing antibiotics massively reduces the danger of succumbing to the disease, although the potential pathogens eliminated are not known. Sometimes, doctors will actually prescribe immunosuppressants after birth to keep the condition from developing. This appears to be very effective although, it can have effects on the baby.

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Last Reviewed:
October 08, 2016
Last Updated:
January 11, 2018