Postpartum Depression and Thyroid Levels
It is about two months after a mother has given birth. She has extreme fatigue, seems to be feel hot all of the time, can become irritable or suddenly nervous for no known reason. She may have heart palpitations, but does not feel pain. Does she have postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum thyroiditis (an inflammation of the thyroid gland than can cause it to be overactive)?
What is the Difference?
Except for their names and their symptoms, there are big differences between postpartum depression and postpartum thyroiditis. Giving birth, whether vaginally or by Caesarian section, is a tremendously stressful time on the body. This can cause tremendous shifts in hormone levels and thyroid levels. In some women, giving birth is the cause for PPD and thyroid level changes.
Antidepressants and talk therapy, which are often recommended for PPD, will have no beneficial affect on a woman suffering from high thyroid levels. In addition to her current symptoms, she may even suffer side effects from antidepressants such as becoming drowsy, have a vast increase in appetite, and feel even more depressed or even suicidal.
Unfortunately, there is not a single test to determine how a woman will react to antidepressants. The only way to know what the side effects will be is by actually taking the antidepressant. In order to spare a woman from the side effects of antidepressants and the expense of talk therapy, getting a thyroid blood test can help rule out high thyroid levels masking as postpartum depression.
It is unknown why some women get postpartum thyroiditis and not others. But women with Type I diabetes and immune disorders seem to be more at risk. Women who suffered from postpartum thyroiditis previously have a 70% chance of getting it again after giving birth, according to Alex Stagnaro-Green of the Endocrinology Department at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Women can even develop postpartum thyroiditis after having a miscarriage.
Unfortunately, it is also unknown why women experience PPD symptoms without also suffering from a malfunctioning thyroid. This may be due to genetics.
Postpartum Depression and Thyroid Levels: Time Length
Symptoms of postpartum thyroidosis can begin as early as two months after giving birth or having a miscarriage, but they may also begin as late as one year after the event. This differs slightly from PPD, which can begin only after one month after birth.
Left untreated, PPD can last for one or two years, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. But many women with PPD respond quickly to medication and therapy.
They can respond even quicker if the PPD symptoms turn out to be caused by an overactive thyroid and not an imbalance in brain chemistry. Sometimes the thyroid will function normally after just four weeks on medication such as beta-blockers, but sometimes it can take many years. Each woman responds to PPD and postpartum thyroiditis in a different way.
Smith, Laura L. PhD & Charles H. Ellliot, PhD. Depression For Dummies Wiley Publishing; 2003.
Nippoldt, MD, Todd P. “Postpartum thyroiditis: What are the signs and symptoms?” https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/postpartum-thyroiditis/AN00153
Stagnaro-Green, Alex. “Postpartum Thyroiditis.”The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism Vol. 87, No. 9 4042-4047. 2002.
New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. “Post Partum Depression (PPD) Frequently Asked Questions.” https://www.nj.gov/health/fhs/postpartumdepression/faq.shtml#q15