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What is Postpartum Thyroiditis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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Postpartum thyroiditis is a inflammation of the thyroid gland which can emerge two to six months after giving birth. This inflammation is painless, which means that a woman will not notice swelling or irritation around her thyroid gland. Postpartum thyroiditis can lead to both a hyperactive and a hypoactive thyroid, which means that symptoms are variable. This condition can be treated with medications used to control thyroid hormones until the inflammation resolves.

The causes of postpartum thyroiditis are unclear. Women with a history of thyroid problems, women with type I diabetes, and women with autoimmune conditions appear to be at increased risk. For women who have had postpartum thyroiditis in the past, the chances of having it again are very high. All of these risk factors can lead a doctor to monitor a postpartum patient closely for any signs of postpartum thyroiditis, but women without a history of these problems are also at risk, and sometimes are diagnosed late.

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Women with postpartum thyroiditis can experience weight changes, fatigue, rapid heart rate, anxiety, sensitivity to temperature extremes, nervousness, and water retention. When the thyroid is overactive, symptoms such as weight loss, rapid heart rate, and anxiety are more common, while an underactive thyroid can cause weight gain, a puffy face, and sensitivity to cold. Unfortunately, a lot of these symptoms are common in new mothers, who often feel fatigued and stressed, and the symptoms are sometimes confused with postpartum depression, a serious condition which requires a very different treatment approach.

Postpartum thyroiditis can be identified by taking a blood sample to check for levels of thyroid hormones. If hormones are too high, drugs can be given to block them. If levels are too low, a woman can take supplementary hormones to make up for the hormones her thyroid is not producing. Periodic blood tests can be used to see if thyroid function has returned to normal. Postpartum thyroiditis usually eventually resolves with treatment, although some women experience permanent changes which require lifelong supplementary hormones.

It can be difficult for new mothers to remember to take care of themselves, because they are concerned with the baby. However, it's important for new mothers to stay as healthy as possible, and to talk to a doctor if they experience health problems. Poor health makes it hard to care for a baby, and can interfere with breastfeeding and other activities which a mother may want the opportunity to engage in.

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