Finding out you’re pregnant comes with many emotions. Depending on the person and her circumstances, these may include shock, happiness, and maybe even a little bit of fear about the unknown. And if you have an underlying health condition — such as hypothyroidism — you may be wondering how it could affect your pregnancy and your baby. Are there any risks of complications? Is there anything you can do to ensure your and your baby’s health?
What is hypothyroidism?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. It’s approximately two inches long and is part of the body’s endocrine system — a group of glands that produce hormones regulating many of the body’s functions, including:
- Sexual function
- Menstrual cycle
- Heart rate
- Body temperature
When the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, the condition is called hypothyroidism (also known as an underactive thyroid). While it can be treated, the condition has no cure.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
There are several causes of hypothyroidism. Most of them involve either an underlying health condition or undergoing certain types of medical treatments. The most common causes include:
- Thyroiditis. Thyroiditis is inflammation of the thyroid. At the beginning of the condition, the thyroid releases too many hormones. However, after a few weeks or months, the gland starts running out of hormones, resulting in hypothyroidism.
- Autoimmune disorders. While hypothyroidism may be the result of different types of autoimmune disorders, the most common culprit is Hashimoto’s disease or Grave’s disease — since these conditions cause the immune system to specifically attack the thyroid gland.
- Radiation therapy. This is more likely to occur if you are receiving treatment for cancers that are located in the head and/or neck. In fact, approximately 50% of patients treated for these types of cancer develop hypothyroidism. The disease can develop years after completing treatment.
- Thyroid surgery. Whether due to Grave’s disease, thyroid nodules, or cancer, removing a portion of the thyroid — or if the entire gland is removed — will cause hypothyroidism. When this occurs, you’ll have to take medication to regulate your hormones for the rest of your life.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
The symptoms of hypothyroidism start appearing when your body’s processes start slowing down due to low hormone levels. When this occurs, it’s common to experience the following symptoms:
- Slower heart rate
- Weight gain
- Chronic constipation
- Getting tired easily
- Dry skin
- Muscle cramps
- Difficulties concentrating
- Swelling of the face
- Hoarse voice
- Brittle nails
- Joint pain
While these symptoms are common denominators, they may vary from one person to the next. The only way to know for sure if you are suffering from hypothyroidism is by getting a blood test for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
Risk Factors for Developing Hypothyroidism
Even if you’re not currently experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism, you may be at a high risk of developing the condition if any of the following factors apply to you:
- Thyroid condition
- Autoimmune disorder
- Family history
- Type 1 diabetes
- Have undergone radiation treatment
- Have a child with a thyroid condition
How does hyperthyroidism affect pregnancy?
Uncontrolled hyperthyroidism could have significant effects on both your health and the development and health of your baby. The severity can vary from one person to the next.
How it Affects Your Health
Preeclampsia. Having low thyroid hormones during pregnancy could result in a serious blood pressure condition called preeclampsia. Left untreated, it could lead to organ damage — especially the liver and the kidneys. If the condition is severe, it could also lead to death.
Thyroid storm. Another serious condition that may be the result of hypothyroidism during pregnancy is thyroid storm. This condition causes the heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature to increase to life-threatening levels. Treatment usually requires radioactive ione, but doing so during pregnancy would harm the unborn child. Therefore, the thyroid would have to be removed surgically.
Nutrition. It’s important to discuss with your OB-GYN if you’re taking prenatal vitamins, as the minerals in them may stop your body’s absorption of the hormone replacement therapy. If you’re concerned about your vitamin intake, follow medical advice regarding a nutrition plan.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with hypothyroidism but have been experiencing the symptoms, tell your doctor so that you can get tested. Also mention if you’re at a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism.
How it Affects the Health of the Baby
Brain development. During the first trimester — and half of the second one — a fetus relies on the mother’s thyroid hormones for normal brain development. Therefore, it’s crucial to monitor hormone levels every four weeks during the first half of the pregnancy. Failing to do so may result in developmental delays, lower IQ, and impaired motor skills of the baby.
In order to ensure the healthy development of your baby, your doctor will provide hormone replacement therapy, based on your specific levels of thyroid hormones. This treatment is safe for your baby and may be reduced during the second half of the pregnancy.
Placental abruption. Uncontrolled hypothyroidism may cause the placenta to separate from the wall of the uterus before childbirth. Since your baby receives oxygen and nutrition from the placenta, this could result in fetal death. Even if your child were to survive a placental abruption if it occurs later in the pregnancy, they would still have a high likelihood of developing long-term health complications.
Call OB-GYN Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch for More Information
At OB-GYN Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch, we provide a variety of services. No matter your age or medical history, we’ll help you feel comfortable and answer all of your reproductive health-related questions.
Call us today to schedule an appointment.