Thyroid Problems in Women & Postpartum Depression

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Do you know what your thyroid does? I didn’t, so I had to look it up before I could write about the fact that thyroiditis can cause symptoms that mimic postpartum depression.   It turns out only a minority of women with postpartum depression have symptoms caused solely by problems with their thyroid function, but even so it’s worth getting your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels checked to find out if you’re one of them.   If you are, treatment with thyroid medication should clear the depression symptoms right up.

The New York Times reported last week on researchers who found that treating subclinical hypothyroidism may help relieve depression or fatigue symptoms. Right now, most people are only treated if their TSH is 10 or higher.  This particular study looks at the potential of treating people with TSH levels in the 5-10 range.   That approach is controversial because thyroid medication can have negative side effects.

Still, this is an important topic given how many women have thyroid problems. Harriet Brown writes in the New York Times piece:

Women are far more likely to develop thyroid problems than men, especially past age 50, and some experts believe that gender accounts for some reluctance to treat subclinical disease. “There’s a terrible bias against women who come in with subtle emotional complaints,” Dr. Davis said. “These complaints tend to be pushed aside or attributed to stress or anxiety.”

Two moms recently wrote about their experience with thyroid problems during pregnancy or in the postpartum period.  Warrior Mom Cristi from Motherhood Unadorned explains that she had never heard of pregnancy-induced hypothyroidism until she had it herself, and Stacey over at Cafe Mom also writes about her thyroid disease and how it made her feel like she had postpartum depression, among other symptoms.

How about you? Have you had thyroid problems that impacted your mood?

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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Comments

  1. Thanks Katherine. I think it's such an interesting topic. Even if it only helps a small percentage of women it's still so worth it to get checked out.

  2. It's important to note that unless you have a baseline for where your thyroid "normally" is, you won't know really whether you have or how severe your postpartum thyroiditis is. This happened to me after L1. Also, a prominent researcher recently shared with me in conversation that not only do the TSH levels need to be tested, but an entire panel (including thyroid antibodies) needs to be evaluated to see if a woman's thyroid may be impacting her depression and/or anxiety.

    Thanks for raising awareness around this topic.

  3. Huh.

    My mom has hypothyroidism, and I'm being checked this week for unrelated to PPD issues. Interesting all around.

  4. That is interesting. Thyroid problems run in my family, so I should probably go get checked out.

  5. I actually have no thyroid gland at all (many problems as a teen lead to having it removed). But its amazing what the thyroid gland controls. Thanks for bringing this to light

  6. During the initial peak of my problems with PPOCD, I was hypothyroid and didn't know it. Initially I was borderline hyperthyroid, which can cause anxiety issues as well. Through a series of blood tests and ultrasounds it was found that I have Hashimoto's disease, which is the most common form of hypothyroidism. Your body makes cells that attack the thyroid gland and cause it to function improperly. It's not reversible but very treatable. Once I started on the correct dose of synthroid, the hormone replacement for thyroid issues, my recovery increased dramatically. I wouldn't say that my thyroid issue was the only cause of my postpartum experience, but definitely a major contributor.

  7. It's late where I'm at so I apologize for not going into specifics, but I felt that sharing a little of my experience was important.

    When I was initially seen by my doctor for symptoms of PPD, which included bouts of rage and listlessness, she checked my thyroid AND referred me to counseling services. After the initial check showed I had hypothyroidism, I was given a fairly high dose of Synthroid and told that since I had no previous issues with hypothyroidism, my body MIGHT resume normal thyroid function over time.

    This did NOT alleviate my depression and my anger issues, but it did give me an extra bit of energy to begin the battle with these issues. I changed my lifestyle, my diet, and sought support from family and friends. I'm finally able to be the type of parent that I want to be and to make parenting choices based on what I believe and not on what I am able to 'handle.'

  8. My thyroid level is 11 (Dr said healthy is 23) but instead of providing treatment for my thyroid I was told to come back to see the Dr when my son is one… why? I am constantly tired, sad, headaches, low energy – all hidden behind a BIG smile for all to see as I struggle in my lonely world. Do I need to stop nursing? My son turned one a few days ago and NOT at all interested in weaning…

    • P – if you are referring to your TSH, then 11 is NOT normal. Even the most conservative ranges have 5 as the high normal. 23 is way off! This article is very misleading – most people with thyroid issues can tell you that waiting to treat until the TSH (which is actually not the best testing because it tells you only what the pituitary gland is doing) is at 5 is still too late because most people feel miserable. A normal TSH level is around 1.