By Kathy Evans Wisner

We've all heard about "the blues" that many women experience right after giving birth. But there is little awareness about a very common condition, which I call "the blahs," which occurs about 3 to 7 months after birth. The more technical term for this condition is "thyroiditis" or an inflamed thyroid gland, and it affects an estimated 9% of all postpartum women, though the number could be much higher because it is so often misdiagnosed.

Why is postpartum thyroiditis often misdiagnosed? Because many of the symptoms seem so expected for a new mother: extreme fatigue, depression, memory impairment, weight loss or gain. For some women, the symptoms gradually disappear. But for others like me, the symptoms get worse.


There are two types of postpartum thyroid disorders: hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid). I was "hyper," though I experienced symptoms common to "hypo." However, the general symptoms for each break down like this:

Hypothyroid Hyperthyroid
Fatigue Anxiousness
Weakness Trembling
Weight gain Weight loss
Constipation Rapid heartbeat
Intolerance to cold Night sweats/sweaty palms
Muscle cramps Muscle weakness
Memory impairment Difficulty concentrating


It has just been in the last decade that postpartum thyroiditis has been diagnosed. And while the exact cause is unknown, one explanation is that the immune system, and thyroid activity in particular, are suppressed during pregnancy to keep the body from "rejecting" the unborn baby. Then, after the birth, the immune system rebounds and the thyroid becomes "injured."


If you're a new mother and suffer from any of the symptoms above or  just think your mind and body are rebounding more slowly than they should, get your blood tested for a thyroid imbalance. I did and was so relieved that all my spaciness and general lethargy was not because I was an older, out-of-shape mother, which I thought. It was because my thyroid hormone levels were off the charts.


The relief that I felt knowing that a thyroid condition was the cause of my suffering was quickly replaced by panic as the endocrinologist I was sent to began talking of radical treatments for my problem. My three options were to 1)take a drug to render my thyroid completely useless; 2) receive a dose of radioactive iodine to kill my thyroid; 3) have my thyroid surgically removed. Each of these options came with the added bonus of being on a hormone replacement therapy for  the rest of my life.

I immediately headed to the nearest book store and bought a book on  acupressure and one on herbal medicine. While one friend suggested kelp as a possible treatment, I read on the Internet soon afterwards that kelp, which is rich in natural iodine, can actually irritate a hyperactive thyroid and make the condition worse.

Feeling somewhat wary of my own ability to treat my thyroid, I went to a licensed acupuncturist who specializes in Chinese herbal medicine. On my first visit, she took my heart rate, and it was a whopping 85 beats a minute due to my thyroid. After just two acupuncture treatments and a week of taking two Chinese herb mixtures (Buzhong Yiqi Wan and Liu Wei Dihuangwan) my heart rate went down to 70, and within 2 weeks, it was down to 60. More importantly, I felt like a new person. Instead of dragging myself around my house, as I had for the past several months, I had a new found energy. I could jog again, and my appetite leveled out.

Five weeks later, I had my blood tested again, and this time my thyroid hormone levels were very low (a "swing" effect common to thyroid disorders). Soon afterwards, my levels evened out, and I was completely back to normal.

It is amazing to me that such a common condition has gotten so little  attention. Had I not been diagnosed, I would probably still be  suffering the intense fatigue, weight loss and depression that had plagued me for months. And had I not explored alternative treatment options, I could well have ended up without a functioning thyroid, taking drugs for the rest of my life.

Don't let it happen to you.  If you think there's any chance that you have a thyroid problem, get a blood test.  And get smart about your treatment options if you are diagnosed.   For more information, contact The Thyroid Foundation of America (1-800-832-8321 outside MA, 1-617-726-8500 in MA) and The Thyroid Society for Education and Research (1-800-THYROID). Or log onto http://thyroid.miningco.com


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