An insufficiency of thyroid hormones can trigger a number of conditions that can affect your health and well-being. The two main thyroid diseases—hyperthyroidism (excess production of thyroid hormones) and hypothyroidism (insufficient production of thyroid hormones)—affect millions of people around the globe.
Women, in particular, are more prone to developing thyroid disorders and an even greater risk exists for pregnant mothers, who suffer from an over- or under-active thyroid gland. Whether you have a pre-existing thyroid condition or are diagnosed with one after conceiving, the fluctuations in your thyroid levels can have a huge impact on your and your baby’s health.
Hypothyroidism & Pregnancy: Know the Facts
During pregnancy, the thyroid gland is required to produce about 40 percent more thyroid hormones for the proper development of the baby. In the first trimester, the growing fetus draws its supply of thyroid hormones from the mother, which is absorbed through the placenta.
At around 12 weeks, the baby’s now growing thyroid gland starts to function on its own, supplying it with the required amount of hormones. However, it is in these initial days of growth that these hormones play an extremely important role in the development of the baby.
Dr. Stephen Thung, a maternal-fetal medicine expert and OB/GYN at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says, “A healthy thyroid status is critical for both maternal and fetal health and development. Pregnancy induces significant changes in thyroid physiology, resulting in higher levels of thyroid hormone in the mother, yet active forms of thyroid hormone remains stable.”
Serious Conditions Triggered By Hypothyroidism During Pregnancy
However, pregnant women need to be mindful that some of the early symptoms of pregnancy overlap with those of hypothyroidism. This can result in the condition being undiagnosed for a long time. Dr. Thung points out at the conditions that can be triggered by hypothyroidism during pregnancy.
- anemia—too few red blood cells in the body, which prevents the body from getting enough oxygen
- low birth weight
- congenital cretinism (growth failure, mental retardation)
Symptoms Of Hypothyroidism During Pregnancy
Symptoms such as extreme fatigue, weight gain, nausea, and vomiting are often easily confused with normal symptoms of pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. However, here are some other symptoms which might help your doctor assess your health closely and arrive at a diagnosis.
- Concentration and memory problems
- Unexplained muscle cramps
- Sensitivity to cold temperatures
Causes of Hypothyroidism During Pregnancy
Hypothyroidism affects about 0.1 to 0.3 percent pregnancies and is often caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis—an autoimmune condition where the body produces antibodies against the thyroid gland, causing its inflammation and interfering with its ability to produce thyroid hormones.
Treatment of Hypothyroidism During Pregnancy
Dr. Daniel Rychlik, a reproductive endocrinologist from Southern California Reproductive Center, says, “Women with untreated hypothyroidism are not able to provide their fetuses with enough thyroxine for normal brain development, resulting in life-long neurological problems. A woman with hypothyroidism can be treated effectively with thyroxine replacement, which is safe to use during pregnancy. Doctors can monitor the proper dosage of thyroxine by measuring the TSH in the blood. Although thyroxine dosage is based on the person’s weight, everyone reacts slightly differently to the hormone.”
Endocrinologist Dr. Romy Block, who is also a member of the American Thyroid Association and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, gives some tips to avoid the complications resulting from hypothyroidism.
He says, “The solution is to screen high-risk women who have a family history of thyroid disease or autoimmune diseases, personal history of miscarriages, etc. It is also important to screen them for thyroid peroxidase antibodies, which can affirm the diagnosis of Hashimoto’s. If the antibodies are positive, it is recommended that the doctor puts them on appropriate medication to avert any problems in the future.”