Health Encyclopedia

Postpartum Thyroiditis

What is postpartum thyroiditis?

Postpartum thyroiditis happens when a woman’s thyroid becomes inflamed after having a baby. It may first cause your thyroid to be overactive. But in time it leads to an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). A small portion of pregnant women get this health problem.

What causes postpartum thyroiditis?

Doctors do not know what causes this condition. But it is similar to the autoimmune disease Hashimoto's thyroiditis. It is hard to tell the two conditions apart.

Who is at risk for postpartum thyroiditis?

You may be more likely to get this condition if you have any of these:

  • Antithyroid antibodies before pregnancy
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Past thyroid problems
  • Family history of thyroid problems

What are the symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis?

When the thyroid becomes inflamed, it first sends a lot of thyroid hormone into your blood. That causes hyperthyroidism. During this phase, you may not have any symptoms. Or symptoms you do have are usually mild and do not last long. After this first phase, you will either recover completely or your thyroid will be damaged. A damaged thyroid can become underactive. This condition may also go away. Or you may have an underactive thyroid for the rest of your life. In this case you may need hormone replacement.

Below are the most common symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis. But each person may have slightly different symptoms.

Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)              

  • Feeling warm
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of concentration
  • Weight loss

Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)

  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Loss of memory
  • Cannot tolerate cold weather
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain

These symptoms may not appear until several months after childbirth. They are often mistaken for normal signs of recovery from childbirth. Always see your health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is postpartum thyroiditis diagnosed?

Tests used to detect postpartum thyroiditis depend on the phase of the disease. A blood test can usually tell whether you have an underactive or overactive thyroid.

How is postpartum thyroiditis treated?

Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:

  • How old you are
  • Your overall health and past health
  • How sick you are
  • How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
  • How long the condition is expected to last
  • The opinion of the health care providers involved in your care
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment depends on the phase of the disease and your symptoms. If you have major symptoms of hyperthyroidism, your doctor will usually prescribe beta blockers. These medicines slow down heart rate and ease symptoms. If you have major symptoms of hypothyroidism, your provider will prescribe thyroid hormone replacement.

You should periodic thyroid tests. Your thyroid may be working normally within 12 to 18 months after the symptoms start. If so, you may be able to stop treatment.

Key points

  • Postpartum thyroiditis happens when a woman’s thyroid becomes inflamed after having a baby. It may first cause the thyroid to be overactive. But in time it leads to an underactive thyroid.
  • Doctors do not know what causes this condition.
  • You are more likely to get it if you had antithyroid antibodies before pregnancy, or a history of thyroid problems. You are also at higher risk if you have type 1 diabetes.
  • A blood test can usually tell whether you have an overactive or underactive thyroid.
  • Treatment is based on how severe your symptoms are.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.


Medical Reviewers:

  • Hanrahan, John, MD
  • newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician