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Why Hypothyroidism Occurs in Pregnancy

Hypothyroidism is a condition of the thyroid gland. It’s characterized by an underactive thyroid gland. The thyroid produces hormones T3 and T4. These hormones control metabolism (how the body uses and stores energy). Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces little thyroid hormone than normal.

If your thyroid is not making sufficient thyroid hormone, this condition is called hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid.

During pregnancy, thyroid hormones are primarily essential for healthy fetal development of the nervous system and the brain.

The hormones are necessary, especially during the first trimester (first three months). This is because the fetus depends on your hormones. 

These hormones travel to the baby through the placenta.

Can Pregnancy Cause Hypothyroidism?

Pregnancy causes significant changes in the hormone levels produced by the thyroid gland. Due to this, thyroid problems can start or worsen during pregnancy.

As a result, hypothyroidism becomes common in pregnancy and is very important to treat.

Hypothyroidism and Pregnancy Complications

If not treated, hypothyroidism may lead to severe complications such as;

  • Miscarriage
  • Anemia
  • Low birth weight
  • Stillbirth
  • Congenital disabilities

These problems occur primarily in women with severe hypothyroidism.

What Causes Hypothyroidism in Pregnancy?

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common culprit of hypothyroidism during pregnancy.

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder whereby the immune system produces antibodies that mistakenly attack thyroid gland cells.

It results in inflammation and damages to the thyroid gland. As a result, it cannot produce enough thyroid hormones that will meet the body’s requirements.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Pregnancy?

Symptoms of underactive thyroid in pregnancy, such as extreme fatigue and weight gain, might be confused with usual pregnancy symptoms.

Other symptoms might include:

  • Severe constipation
  • Sensitivity to cold temperatures
  • Memory problems or difficulty in concentrating
  • Muscle cramps

How Hypothyroidism Affects the Fetus

In the first months of your pregnancy, the fetus depends entirely on the mother for thyroid hormones.

The hormones are essential for the baby’s normal growth and brain development.

Hypothyroidism can result in long-term effects on the baby. 

Hypothyroidism Diagnosis During pregnancy?

Your doctor will take blood tests to measure thyroid hormone (T4 or thyroxine) and serum TSH (the thyroid-stimulating hormone) levels.

If your TSH levels are above normal and T4 levels are below normal, this means you have hypothyroidism.

Besides, the doctor can try to find certain antibodies in your blood to check if it’s Hashimoto’s disease-causing hypothyroidism.

Treatment of Hypothyroidism in Pregnancy

Treatment involves thyroid hormone replacement. The amount administered is based on the thyroid hormone levels and the associated symptoms.

The levels of thyroid hormone might change during pregnancy. Therefore, the hormone replacement dose may likely change over time.

The hormone levels require checking after every four weeks during the first half of pregnancy.

In the second half of pregnancy, the levels can be checked less regularly, provided that the dosage is not changed. This treatment is vital and safe for both the mother and baby.

Patients shouldn’t take thyroid hormones at the same time as prenatal vitamins. If one does this, the minerals in the vitamins may hinder the absorption of the thyroid hormone. As long as hormone levels respond to treatment, your pregnancy — and your baby’s development — will progress normally.

Who Is At Risk? 

Women have an increased risk of hypothyroidism during pregnancy, especially those who are over 30 years old. You may also be at risk of this condition if you have:

  • Goiter, thyroid nodules, or when under treatment for a thyroid condition.
  • Had a thyroid condition previously, or you have had a baby with a thyroid condition.
  • Previously suffered from an autoimmune disorder or have a family history of autoimmune thyroid disorder, like Hashimoto’s disease or Graves’ disease.
  • Type 1 diabetes ( This is a chronic illness in which the pancreas produces little insulin) 

How Do Doctors Treat Hypothyroidism During Pregnancy?

Hypothyroidism Treatment entails replacing that hormone your own thyroid cannot make.

The doctor will most likely recommend levothyroxine. This is a thyroid hormone medicine similar to T4 (one of the hormones that your thyroid normally makes.)

Levothyroxine medication is safe for your baby and very important until they can make their own thyroid hormone.

If you had hypothyroidism before you got pregnant, you must walk your pregnancy journey with a health care provider. 

Immediately after you find out you’re pregnant, let your doctor conduct tests to ensure your hormones are well balanced. You will also get advice and help to manage your hypothyroidism during pregnancy and breastfeeding.