Postpartum thyroiditis, a thyroid inflammation that occurs soon after delivering your baby, may resolve on its own. For some people, treatment is necessary to restore healthy thyroid function.

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Postpartum thyroiditis is inflammation of the thyroid gland that occurs in the first few months after giving birth. The condition can lead to symptoms of both overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) and underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).

It isn’t always clear why someone develops postpartum thyroiditis, though individuals who have difficulties with their thyroid function before pregnancy may be at higher risk.

Postpartum thyroiditis does not always require treatment. It may resolve on its own without causing any major symptoms.

If treatment is necessary, the treatment approach will depend on whether you’re experiencing hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism — both of which can be diagnosed with a simple blood test and a review of symptoms.

This article explores more about postpartum thyroiditis, its symptoms, treatment, and the outlook for those with this condition.

The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the lower neck.

Despite its small size, the thyroid gland has a big job. It produces thyroid hormone, which is carried throughout the body to support cells in all the organs, muscles, and other tissues. Thyroid hormone affects how your body uses energy, your heart rate, brain function, body temperature, and much more.

If you have postpartum thyroiditis, your thyroid is inflamed. As the condition progresses, you may develop “hyperthyroidism,” in which your body produces too much thyroid hormone. At a later stage, your thyroid hormone production can drop significantly, leading to a condition called “hypothyroidism.”

Postpartum thyroiditis is an uncommon condition, affecting only about 5% of individuals after delivery.

During the hyperthyroidism phase of postpartum thyroiditis, symptoms can include:

If your condition changes to hypothyroidism, symptoms can include:

Health experts aren’t sure why some people develop postpartum thyroiditis and others don’t, but some factors may raise your risk.

One of the main risk factors is the presence of antithyroid antibodies before pregnancy. Antithyroid antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system that attack the thyroid gland. The presence of these antibodies may be an indication that you may have Hashimoto thyroiditis, which is the most common form of hypothyroidism.

Other risk factors that are related to postpartum thyroiditis include:

  • family history of thyroid function difficulties
  • personal history of thyroid function difficulties
  • type 1 diabetes

Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can usually be identified in a blood test. If you’re experiencing postpartum thyroiditis, regardless of whether you’re producing too much or too little thyroid hormone, a blood test should confirm a diagnosis.

Routine blood work may include a test for thyroid hormone levels. If the levels are atypically high or low, a doctor may order a complete thyroid panel, which includes tests for thyroid-stimulating hormone, T4, T3, and thyroid antibodies.

A doctor may also recommend a thyroid panel blood test if you have symptoms that suggest hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.

The treatment for postpartum thyroiditis depends on whether you’re experiencing hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and the excess thyroid production it causes may require a corticosteroid, such as prednisone, to suppress inflammation throughout the body. You may also need beta-blockers to slow your heart rate and help your heart pump with less strain.

Hypothyroidism may require daily thyroid hormone replacement. The thyroid hormones are in pill form of varying doses. The dose you start with will depend on several factors, including your age, weight, medical condition, and the severity of symptoms.

If your natural hormone production is down slightly, you may not need medication. In any event, you’ll want to have your thyroid hormone levels checked regularly because changes in those levels may trigger changes in your treatment.

The American Thyroid Association suggests that for most people postpartum thyroiditis resolves within 18 months from the start of symptoms. For about 20% of individuals, it may lead to chronic hypothyroidism, which requires continued monitoring and treatment.

With treatment, the outlook for someone with hypothyroidism is generally good. Without treatment, an individual can develop serious health complications, including heart failure.

What does postpartum thyroiditis feel like?

You may not notice symptoms at first, or you may have mild hyperthyroidism symptoms that soon disappear.

If hyperthyroidism symptoms become obvious, you may feel weaker than usual and experience a rapid heart rate. Unexplained weight loss may give way to weight gain as your condition shifts to hypothyroidism, which may make you feel more tired than usual.

What is the thyroid belly?

“Thyroid belly” refers to the weight gain around the abdomen that can accompany hypothyroidism. Because hypothyroidism can cause slower stomach emptying, it may also trigger acid reflux.

What part of the body itches with thyroid problems?

Itchiness related to difficulties with thyroid function can occur anywhere on the body, but it tends to affect the arms, legs, back, and abdomen more than anywhere else. Rashes and hives may also develop as a result of thyroid disease. Itchy eyes are another common symptom.

With all the other changes occurring during your postpartum periods, it can be easy to miss signs and symptoms of thyroid disease or other conditions. Your doctor or healthcare professional can screen for postpartum thyroiditis during your postpartum follow-up appointments.

Postpartum thyroiditis may be temporary and require no treatment, but it’s always possible that thyroiditis may become a permanent condition. With treatment, symptoms usually become manageable with no major effects on your overall health and quality of life.