Postpartum thyroiditis is an uncommon condition in which a previously normal-functioning thyroid gland — a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck just below your Adam’s apple — becomes inflamed within the first year after childbirth.
Postpartum thyroiditis often lasts several weeks to several months. However, postpartum thyroiditis can be difficult to recognize because its symptoms are often mistakenly attributed to the stress of having a newborn and postpartum mood disorders.
For most women who develop postpartum thyroiditis, thyroid function returns to normal within 12 to 18 months of the start of symptoms. However, some women who experience postpartum thyroiditis develop permanent complications.
The exact cause of postpartum thyroiditis isn’t clear. However, women who develop postpartum thyroiditis often have high concentrations of anti-thyroid antibodies in early pregnancy and after childbirth. As a result, it’s believed that women who develop postpartum thyroiditis likely have an underlying autoimmune thyroid condition that flares after childbirth due to fluctuations in immune function. This underlying condition appears to be very similar to Hashimoto’s disease, in which your immune system attacks your thyroid gland.
During postpartum thyroiditis, you might experience two phases. The inflammation and release of thyroid hormone might first cause mild signs and symptoms similar to those of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), including:
- Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- Unexplained weight loss
- Increased sensitivity to heat
These signs and symptoms typically occur one to four months after delivery and last one to three months.
Later, as thyroid cells become impaired, mild signs and symptoms of underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) might develop, including:
- Lack of energy
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Difficulty concentrating
- Aches and pains
These signs and symptoms typically occur four to eight months after delivery and can last from nine to 12 months.
Keep in mind, however, that some women who have postpartum thyroiditis develop symptoms of only hyperthyroidism or only hypothyroidism, but not both.