Could your thyroid be to blame?

Feeling tired, or even completely exhausted is a common complaint of new mums.  Being pregnant and giving birth do take an enormous toll on your body and it takes quite some time to recover.  Approximately five to ten percent of women develop a condition called postpartum thyroiditis.  This is where the thyroid gland becomes inflamed and malfunctions after giving birth.  This condition usually develops during the first six months after giving birth.

Postpartum thyroiditis occurs in two phases; first there is hyperthyroidism (where the thyroid is over active), and then hypothyroidism (where the thyroid is under active).  The hyperthyroidism phase is short (lasting two to four months), and produces the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Weight loss
  • An increased appetite
  • Fast heart rate and heart palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Heat intolerance

Most women don’t experience all of these symptoms and they tend to be quite mild, therefore often go unnoticed.

In the second phase, the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones, and this causes the symptoms of hypothyroidism.  The following symptoms are possible:

  • Goitre (enlargement of the thyroid gland).  Not all women experience this.
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Cold intolerance
  • Dry skin and brittle nails
  • Scalp hair loss
  • Weight gain
  • Constipation

Many women put up with these symptoms for too long, expecting that they are just a natural consequence of being a sleep deprived new mum.  However, if you can relate to these symptoms it pays to see your doctor for a simple blood test that can diagnose this condition.

Testing for postpartum thyroiditis

Your doctor will order a blood test to check your level of the hormone TSH.  This hormone becomes elevated in the second phase of postpartum thyroiditis, when the thyroid has become under active.  Your doctor should also check your blood for thyroid antibodies.  These are present in the majority of cases and indicate that the condition is caused by an immune system problem.

Treatment of postpartum thyroiditis

Your doctor will likely give you a prescription for thyroxine tablets if your thyroid is found to be under active.  Thyroxine is the major hormone made by the thyroid gland.  Typically women take thyroxine for approximately six months and then have a blood test again to see if the thyroid gland has recovered.  Approximately 25 to 30 percent of women are left with a permanently under active thyroid gland and must take medication long term.

Ideally the treatment of postpartum thyroiditis would involve strategies to help the immune system.  This condition originates because of a problem with the immune system, which triggers the production of antibodies against the thyroid gland.
Our book Your Thyroid Problems Solved outlines our recommended treatment of postpartum thyroiditis.