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Episode 452

Ellie | Postpartum – postpartum lethargy, brain fog, postpartum thyroiditis

Today, Ellie shares her experience with postpartum thyroiditis after experiencing the tell-tale signs and advocating for the appropriate blood tests at her six week check. There are many symptoms in postpartum that can be excused as side-effects of birth recovery and sleep deprivation. However, what’s ‘common’ isn’t always ‘normal’. Postpartum Thyroiditis is a thyroid condition that prompts a range of symptoms including lethargy, brain fog, low mood, anxiety and weight changes. It can also contribute to changes in bowel habits and low milk production. In the general population it affects 5-10 percent of people but it’s not routinely tested in postpartum.

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“My family has a history of thyroid issues but I’d never experienced any before pregnancy. After birth I had all the regular symptoms – tiredness, lethargy and I was just trying to work out what the new normal for my body was. I also experienced symptoms that were new to me; my digestion was really slow and I had persistent brain fog; I just didn’t feel my normal self. At six weeks postpartum I went to my GP and initially he just put it down to normal postpartum but I felt in myself that it didn’t feel completely right or normal so I pushed for blood tests.

“I had blood tests for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and T3 and T4 which and my results were initially high and then low. I went on to have further testing for thyroid antibodies. It’s always nice to have a medical explanation when you feel that something isn’t right.

“I was referred to an endocrinologist and there was a bit of a wait but it was worthwhile to have specialist guidance. My GP held off prescribing medication because he was unsure what medication would be appropriate for breastfeeding.

“Google is great but there’s a lot of information out there that’s not necessarily helpful or beneficial. The endocrinologist explained that pregnancy can affect thyroid function so he diagnosed me with postpartum thyroiditis which is inflammation of the thyroid.

“He did further testing which showed by thyroid antibodies were elevated and he explained it by saying that in pregnancy, the auto-immue system considers the thyroid a foreign object and tries to attack it, destroying some of the thyroid tissue which means there’s less thyroid to produce the hormones so your levels dip.

“Like a lot of medical conditions, it varies person to person. My specialist said that considering my family history I may have it for life or I may need to be on thyroxine for a period of time. Postpartum thyroiditis is considered two years from birth so I was monitored and if my levels normalised, I could wean off the medication but I just had to test every couple of months. I responded within days to the medication which is just a replacement of the hormone.

“I fell pregnant with my second when Pepper was nine months old. After one appointment with my endocrinologist I was able to see my GP throughout pregnancy. They increased my dosage from 50mg to 75mg and that worked for me throughout pregnancy and my diagnosis didn’t restrict my care model at all.

“Overall my headspace and how I was feeling in my body was much better in my second postpartum. I’m still on medication today and now that thyroxine doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it’s made my life much easier. For me, brain fog is always the sign that tells me something might not be right with my thyroid.”

Topics Discussed

brain fog, postpartum lethargy, postpartum thyroiditis

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