Postpartum thyroiditis and autoimmune thyroiditis in women of childbearing age: recent insights and consequences for antenatal and postnatal care

Endocr Rev. 2001 Oct;22(5):605-30. doi: 10.1210/edrv.22.5.0441.


Postpartum thyroiditis is a syndrome of transient or permanent thyroid dysfunction occurring in the first year after delivery and based on an autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid. The prevalence ranges from 5-7%. We discuss the role of antibodies (especially thyroid peroxidase antibodies), complement, activated T cells, and apoptosis in the outbreak of postpartum thyroiditis. Postpartum thyroiditis is conceptualized as an acute phase of autoimmune thyroid destruction in the context of an existing and ongoing process of thyroid autosensitization. From pregnancy an enhanced state of immune tolerance ensues. A rebound reaction to this pregnancy-associated immune suppression after delivery explains the aggravation of autoimmune syndromes in the puerperal period, e.g., the occurrence of clinically overt postpartum thyroiditis. Low thyroid reserve due to autoimmune thyroiditis is increasingly recognized as a serious health problem. 1) Thyroid autoimmunity increases the probability of spontaneous fetal loss. 2) Thyroid failure due to autoimmune thyroiditis-often mild and subclinical-can lead to permanent and significant impairment in neuropsychological performance of the offspring. 3) Evidence is emerging that as women age subclinical hypothyroidism-as a sequel of postpartum thyroiditis-predisposes them to cardiovascular disease. Hence, postpartum thyroiditis is no longer considered a mild and transient disorder. Screening is considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Postnatal Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Prenatal Care
  • Puerperal Disorders / physiopathology
  • Puerperal Disorders / therapy*
  • Thyroiditis / physiopathology
  • Thyroiditis / therapy*
  • Thyroiditis, Autoimmune / physiopathology
  • Thyroiditis, Autoimmune / therapy*