Your thyroid gland, which is located in your throat, is very important for regulating your metabolism, the rate at which your body uses energy. If your thyroid is not functioning properly, the result may be a condition called hypothyroidism, caused by underactivity of the gland, or hyperthyroidism, caused by overactivity.
Fortunately, very few pregnant women suffer from either form of thyroid imbalance: About 0.6 percent of pregnant women develop hyperthyroidism, and about 0.2 percent have hypothyroidism. Being pregnant does not make you more at risk for developing the disorder. Still, all pregnant women should know the symptoms, since a thyroid disorder can dramatically affect a pregnancy. Here's what you should know.
Hypothyroidism has received some press attention lately. A study published in the December 23, 1999, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that women who had underactive thyroid glands during pregnancy were four times as likely as women with normal thyroids to have children with low IQ scores. This finding is important, for doctors can treat hypothyroid problems if they are diagnosed early.
Your health care provider can determine your thyroid function with a simple blood test. (She probably won't test you, however, unless you're experiencing symptoms of an imbalance.) Let your provider know if you have any of these signs:
unexpected amount of weight gain
Of course, some of these symptoms are a normal part of pregnancy (which is why a thyroid condition is not always recognized), but you have nothing to lose by having a test. If the test comes back showing a low level of thyroid hormone, your provider might give you hormone supplements in a pill form. She'll continue to test you throughout your pregnancy and afterward, to determine how long you'll need to take the supplements.
An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) can also cause problems during pregnancy: Pregnant women with this condition have a greater chance of giving birth to a low-birth-weight baby. They also have a greater risk of other problems, such as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia, also known as toxemia, is a disease of pregnancy that causes high blood pressure, sudden weight gain, and retention of large amounts of fluid.
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are:
Your health care provider can diagnose hyperthyroidism with a blood test and prescribe medication to correct the problem.
Both thyroid problems may also occur following a pregnancy, so be sure you report any symptoms of these disorders to your provider. Abnormal thyroid function occurs in 1 in 20 women within the first year of giving birth. Women who are at greater risk are those from families who have pernicious anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, early graying of the hair, and thyroid problems. For more information, contact the Thyroid Foundation of America at 800-832-9321 or www.tsh.org.