When thyroid problems (swelling of the thyroid gland) in women manifest within the first 365 days after childbirth, the condition is referred as postpartum thyroiditis.
Thyroiditis is a condition in which the thyroid gland found in the neck is swollen. The term ‘postpartum’ refers to the time span in a woman’s life immediately after delivery. So, when the inflammation of the gland occurs in the first 12 months after delivery, the condition is referred to as postpartum thyroiditis. In some cases, it occurs soon after giving birth to the child. Although the thyroid gland is swollen, it is not a cause for discomfort and the patient does not experience any pain in the neck area.
As aforementioned, the thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped organ placed at the base of the neck. Its main function is to release thyroid hormones T3 and T4 into the bloodstream. A number of biological processes in the body such as metabolism are dependent on normal production of these hormones. So, it is very necessary that the thyroid gland functions properly.
Malfunctioning of the thyroid gland not only causes inflammation but also leads to under or overproduction of the thyroid hormone. When the thyroid gland produces hormones in excess quantity (more than required), the condition is referred as hyperthyroidism. On the other hand, when the thyroid hormone production is below normal levels, the condition is known as hypothyroidism.
This thyroid condition is not a frequently occurring phenomenon as only 1/10th of female population is diagnosed with thyroiditis post delivery. Thyroiditis after childbirth affects in two phases; Firstly the woman suffers from hyperthyroidism symptoms, which may disappear after a stipulated period of time. Unfortunately, the thyroid gland many not function properly for too long and soon suffers from hypothyroidism. Thus, in the first phase, the person is diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, while in the second phase the onset of hypothyroidism is observed.
Keep in mind that the pattern of postpartum thyroiditis can also change. For instance, it is not necessary that hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism will come in succession. There have been cases where in hypothyroidism phase never occurred after the symptoms of hyperthyroid. Few patients after pregnancy only went through hypothyroidism phase and never had hyperthyroidism.
As aforementioned, the thyroid condition usually begins with hyperthyroidism. With the production of thyroid gland going well beyond normal range, hyperthyroidism symptoms that manifest are as follows:
- Persistent feeling of tiredness (fatigue)
- Increased heart rate
- Unexplained weight loss
- Poor quality sleep
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Frequent bowel movement (diarrhea)
Once the hyperthyroid phase gets over, the thyroid gland functions normally temporarily and is then followed by hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels). Under production of the thyroid hormone can cause the following health problems given below:
- Stiff, swollen joints
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Unexplained weight gain
- Dry skin
- Hoarse voice
The cause of swelling of the thyroid gland after pregnancy has not been yet identified. However, women with autoimmune disorder, (a condition in which the defense mechanism of the body attacks its own tissues) are susceptible to this type of thyroiditis. Women who had earlier suffered from thyroid problems are also in the risk zone of postpartum thyroiditis. Type 1 diabetes and thyroid condition running in families are the other factors that elevate the chances of postpartum thyroiditis and are the major contributing thyroiditis causes.
Even though the woman is diagnosed with postpartum thyroiditis, it is necessary to identify the thyroid problem in order to start the treatment in the right direction. In other words, the phase of postpartum thyroiditis has to be diagnosed correctly in order to restore thyroid health. The patient will be asked to undergo a blood test, which will help to find out the existing type of thyroid condition. Be it hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, it can be successfully diagnosed through a blood test.
Although the initial phase of postpartum thyroiditis begins with hyperthyroidism, medications used to treat overactive thyroid gland are not prescribed. This is because the phase is temporary and so thyroid levels come back to normal without any treatment. However to stabilize the heartbeat, the doctor may recommend beta blockers. For hypothyroidism, the doctor will evaluate the severity of the condition, after examining the results of the blood test. In case, the thyroid levels are not deviating substantially from normal range, no medical treatment will be given. However, if treatment is necessary, tablets containing synthetically prepared thyroid hormone are prescribed.
In most cases, the symptoms go away within a span of 12 months. Sometimes, the duration of the symptoms may last only for a month after the onset of this condition. It all depends on individual health and long term thyroiditis treatment is generally not required.