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Postpartum thyroiditis is inflammation of the thyroid gland that occurs at any point within the first year after childbirth. Around 5 percent of new mothers will experience it.
During pregnancy, the mother's immune system is partially suppressed. It is thought that this is to keep the mother's body from making antibodies that could reject the developing baby. Postpartum thyroiditis is thought to be a rebound reaction of the immune system suppression that occurs during pregnancy and causes antibodies to be formed that attack the thyroid gland.
Postpartum thyroiditis can lead to hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism (producing too much or too little of the thyroid hormone). Symptoms include:
• Feeling overly warm or not coping with cold weather
• Rapid heartbeat
• Lack of concentration
• Loss of memory
• Muscle cramps
• Weight gain (or loss)
During the postpartum period, it is common for women to suffer from mood symptoms such as anxiety and loss of concentration. Sometimes these symptoms may be mistaken for the normal stresses and strains of adjusting to life with a new baby or even postpartum depression, when they are in fact caused by thyroid dysfunction.
If you are having any of these symptoms, see your doctor for blood testing as it may not be caused by the "baby blues".
Women who have had thyroiditis before, or who have had postpartum thyroiditis after a previous pregnancy are at a greater risk of having it again.
Women who have smoked, even if they have quit, are also at a greater risk of thyroid inflammation after pregnancy. There is some evidence that women who have had postpartum thyroiditis may have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease when they are older.
A blood test can be given to check for levels of thyroid hormones and thyroid-stimulating hormones that can indicate whether the thyroid is over or underactive, and paired together, a physical examination can check for an enlarged thyroid gland.
A test called radioactive iodine uptake can also be done.