Sheehan’s Syndrome

What is Sheehan’s Syndrome?

Sheehan’s syndrome (postpartum pituitary necrosis) is a rare condition that is caused by dangerously high blood loss or severely low blood pressure during or shortly after giving birth. When significant amounts of blood are lost and when blood pressure greatly drops, permanent endocrine system problems can occur.

Sheehan’s syndrome is marked by damage of the pituitary gland. When the pituitary gland can no longer produce essential hormones, they must be replaced to avoid low blood pressure, unintentional weight loss, menstrual problems and a potentially life-threatening adrenal crisis.

What are the Symptoms of Sheehan’s Syndrome?

The symptoms of Sheehan’s syndrome can begin immediately, months to years after pituitary hormone loss. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Breastfeeding difficulties
  • Absent or infrequent menstrual periods
  • Underarm and pubic hair loss
  • Unusual weight gain
  • Declined mental function
  • Low blood pressure
  • Feelings of coldness caused by an underactive thyroid
  • Lethargy
  • Heartbeat abnormalities
  • Lack of sexual interest

Sheehan’s Syndrome Causes

Sheehan’s syndrome is caused by the damage to the pituitary gland that comes as a result of massive blood loss and the accompanying drastically low drop in blood pressure during or after the birth of a child. These delivery complications reduce blood flow and oxygen levels to the pituitary gland, which in turn destroys the hormone-producing tissue in the gland.

The hemorrhaging that can lead to Sheehan’s syndrome is a rare occurrence, and Sheehan’s syndrome is a rare condition to occur in women who experience severe blood loss during delivery. It only occurs in women of childbearing years after they have given birth.

Other risk factors for extreme blood loss during delivery and for Sheehan syndrome include:

  • Pregnancy with multiples (two or more); and
  • Having problems with the placenta.

How is Sheehan’s Syndrome Treated?

After diagnosis through blood tests, imaging and patient history, treatment may include:

  • Corticosteroids (adrenal hormone replacement)
  • Medicine to raise thyroid hormone levels
  • Estrogen or progesterone and estrogen therapy
  • Growth hormones (rare)

Sheehan’s Syndrome Prevention

The best way to prevent Sheehan syndrome is with proper medical care during and after pregnancy. While extreme hemorrhaging and the drops in blood pressure that come with it during or after childbirth can be unpredictable and difficult to prevent, doctors and nurses with necessary training, and who do their jobs properly can try to stop this circumstance from having serious repercussions. Also, the doctor treating a patient after such an event can monitor for abnormal hormone levels and other signs of Sheehan’s syndrome.

If her doctor does not initiate the conversation, a woman who has had severe bleeding during or after childbirth should have a discussion with their doctor about having blood tests done to evaluate their hormone levels. This is especially true if a woman is experiencing symptoms of the condition. This may not prevent Sheehan’s syndrome from occurring in the first place, but early intervention can stop some of the more serious complications.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
April 09, 2018