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Can low thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) cause problems in pregnancy?
For women who conceive in spite of the thyroid hormone deficiency, a number of problems may be encountered:
There is an increased tendency to miscarry. Ironically they may also have prolonged pregnancy, requiring intervention in the form of labour induction.
There is increased susceptibility to pregnancy complications such as anaemia, placental abruption, pre-eclampsia and postpartum haemorrhage.
The baby may be of low birth weight and generally in this group of women, the loss of babies during the birth is slightly higher than average.
Is there any treatment for a pregnant woman who has an under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism)?
Yes; the treatment is simple, safe and effective. Thyroxine - which is the thyroid hormone - is administered orally daily, at a dose determined after a specific blood test.
Can a woman taking thyroxine breast-feed?
Yes. It is completely safe.
Can a woman suffering from hypothyroidism recognize the condition?
Unfortunately, it is rather difficult because the symptoms are quite non-specific. For the majority, the condition is stumbled upon in the course of investigation other - seemingly unrelated - problems such as infertility, menstrual irregularities or weight problems.
Symptoms may include a general sense of lethargy that is difficult to shake off, feeling cold (even in quite warm weather), weight gain, heavy periods which tend to be irregular or lack of periods altogether.
Thyrotoxicosis or hyperthyroidism and pregnancy
What about the effect of increased thyroid hormone in pregnancy?
This condition, also called thyrotoxicosis or simply hyperthyroidism, can affect pregnancy in a number of ways. These may include:
Death of the fetus in the womb
What is Graves' disease?
This is a variant of hyperthyroidism. It is actually the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in pregnancy.
Graves’ disease is associated with antibodies which cause or stimulate the production of excessive thyroid hormone. The antibodies can cross over to the fetus to cause the same effect there.
What would make a woman suspect that she has an over-active thyroid (hyperthyroidism)?
Again, it is difficult, as the symptoms are non-specific. They may include weight loss (or inability to gain weight), increased appetite, palpitations, sleep disturbances, tremors of the hands and sweaty palms.
Most cases of hyperthyroidism are discovered before the affected woman has conceived and therefore most of the affected women are already being treated when they become pregnant.
How common is the problem of an overactive thyroid in pregnancy?
It is estimated to affect around 1 in every 500 pregnancies (0.2%)