Guest Blogger and YogaBubs mum, Martine Watker tells us about her experience of having Postpartum Thyroiditis and what symptoms others should be aware of.
Until recently I didn’t really know what the thyroid was let alone its role and how vital it is as a hormone producer and regulator. I had been clueless and to be fair, until my mum suggested (forced) me to make an appointment with the doctor specifically for a thyroid check, I hadn’t paid any attention to it. It turns out it has been the major culprit of many miseries to my physical, mental and general well being and in fact I had Postpartum Thyroiditis!
At this point I must say that I am not medically trained, nor claim to be an expert. Well, I am as far as the next ‘googler’ is concerned of course!
In summary, (and at its most ‘basic’ level) the thyroid produces two main hormones called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) which are important for growth and development and needed by all cells and tissues of the body. It is important that the thyroid works correctly and produces the right amount of these hormones. In particular, for the T3 hormone, as they do all the work for regulating the body’s metabolism and control how much energy the body uses.
If your thyroid (gland) isn’t working correctly, it can be deemed; overactive (hyperthyroidism) thus producing too much of the thyroid hormone. Or alternatively, underactive (hypothyroidism); so not producing enough of the thyroid hormone. Either way medication (amongst other solutions, which I will not be delving into) can be prescribed to balance hormone levels so the thyroid can regulate hormone production as it should.
What I have recently learnt about and experienced first hand is postpartum thyroiditis. This is a postpartum autoimmune condition where-by the immune system attacks the thyroid gland causing it to produce too many thyroid hormones.
Postpartum Thyroiditis Signs
The condition starts with hyperthyroidism (or an overactive thyroid) bringing with it all the usual symptoms such as, intolerance to heat, weight loss… Then, after several weeks the levels deplete and change completely to hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) meaning the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroxine. This results in many of the body’s functions to slow down. The most common symptoms include, weight gain, tiredness and depression. In my opinion this one is the nasty one! Take a look at the Thyroid UK website where you can find a comprehensive list of symptoms (which i found valuable, I printed off the list and ticked what applied to me and took it to my doctor). According to most experts and websites this all happens within around six months postpartum, and lasts around 12-18 months with your thyroid function expected to return to normal after.
So here’s my story, which I hope to help others and prompt some awareness of the condition.
My pregnancy was relatively ‘normal’, I was healthy and took care of myself. I was working an office-based job and was busy, very active and normal. I had the usual meltdowns, worries and fears that any pregnant woman goes through, it wasn’t until after having Dolcie that I noticed that things weren’t right. This being my first pregnancy I didn’t know what to expect. I was warned that recovery from an emergency c-section was long and arduous but didn’t expect to be suffering quite so much six months down the line.
I suffered with ‘baby blues’ which for me was just crying… a lot. I mean, I literally couldn’t stop for days! I’m still unsure if this was the ‘offset’ of the hormone imbalance or considered ‘normal’…I guess I’ll never know.
I had the usual visits from the midwife and health visitor which I only ever relied upon for my baby’s well being, not my own. The questionnaire from the health visitor, ’20 questions on your mental state’ (not the actual title) to me, is ridiculous! ‘Do you feel sad? Sometimes, all the time, never
…Do you ever have thoughts of harming your baby? Sometimes, all the time, never
…what!? Don’t get me wrong my health visitor was very nice but in no way helped me to recognise what was acceptable in terms of emotional endurance postnatal. Nor helped me or my partner spot signs of depression or anxiety. Let alone that any symptoms that could be a sign that my thyroid wasn’t functioning as it should.
Many times I felt that all of a sudden (unbeknownst to me) hormones ‘took over’ I would get annoyed easily and emotional very quickly and unreasonably (my poor boyfriend!). All pretty standard for an emotionally-charged new mum you would think, right? But the bursts of anger, annoyance and overwhelming emotion were enough to concern my mum and sister who advised me to go seek help.
So then I thought, I can overcome this with exercise, I certainly don’t ‘need’ medication, I have been through a lot!…a lot of thinking and justification going on in my head! I wanted to lose the dreaded baby weight anyway so I made that my mission. With healthy eating and exercise, I did well losing 1.5 stone in a couple of months.
It was probably around three months postnatal where my mum said ‘enough is enough now’ and sent me marching off for that dreaded blood test. I went to the doctors very teary and sat and explained that physically I felt weak all over, all of the time. I was intolerant to heat, constantly sweating, I had this weird lump on my neck that was steadily growing (that’s called a goitre by the way). I had an infected section scar that went untreated several times and this was all rolled into what could be causing other symptoms. As for emotionally (and I hate to admit this) I was often
getting angry, upset and confused. I was sent away initially with antibiotics to ‘see how things go’. Then after another few visits (again, don’t get me started on that one!) I was sent off for a blood test… Finally.
‘I had Postpartum Thyroiditis’
I was called back and informed I did have an overactive thyroid, but not by much in terms of the grading system used. My symptoms were still persistent however. The doctor referred me to an endocrinologist (to be honest I think the doctor knew I had complained to the surgery so he referred me quicker than usual). I was initially told it would be a three month wait but was seen within a few weeks, hurrah!
The appointment couldn’t have gone any better and really did renew my faith in the system. The professor went through everything with me, explained exactly how the thyroid should function and what my symptoms were displaying and why. His diagnosis was suspected postpartum thyroiditis. He suggested that my hormone levels should stabilise with time and go back to normal on their own but to be sure asked me to book a series of blood tests until meeting again in several months time.
My first blood test results were in-keeping with the initial diagnosis but my symptoms soon progressed to that of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). I would say this all happened within a month. Now I wasn’t as achy and heat sensitive but was now feeling cold all the time. I was also feeling numbness in my hands and feet, experiencing pins and needles, headaches, seeing things in my peripheral vision, persistent lower back pain,eczema, hair loss, having nightmares… The list literally goes on! The weight was slowly creeping back on, which was so disheartening! What was more concerning was my moods seemed to be fluctuating more and more and I would feel angry quite often and then very emotional. My levels of anxiety were through the roof, to the point where it was rare to go a day without an upset episode of some form. I felt like a wreck both emotionally and physically.
I was prescribed a low dose of thyroxine and this is the point I’m currently at writing this blog.
I am hopeful that with medication and (most importantly) the love and support from my amazing family, that this will be the game changer for me. The start to what I hope will be my road to recovery or to getting back to being ‘myself’ again. If one person can relate to this and feel reassured they are not actually going crazy then I’ve achieved something!
I can’t help but wonder ‘how many people are out there suffering?’. There needs to be more information and advice given about what symptoms to watch out for, particularly as they can be so easily missed for new mums. You can help by looking out for any pregnant family members or friends you have, share the information sheets or talk about it. I found this to be the best coping mechanism; to be open and honest about how I was feeling but, I do realise I have the luxury of a super supportive family. After all it really is the most blessed time being a new mum and postpartum thyroiditis can be managed so it doesn’t spoil such a precious time.
If you have concerns that you might be suffering from Postpartum Thyroiditis, please visit your GP.