Thyroid conditions

What you should know
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck, in front of your windpipe. This tiny gland plays a huge role in your health. The hormones produced by the thyroid gland influence your heart rate, your metabolism, and many other aspects of your health.

Sometimes the thyroid gland produces too much or too little of the thyroid hormone (thyroxine) that keeps the body functioning normally.

  • Hyperthyroidism is the disorder that occurs if the thyroid gland is too active.
  • Hypothyroidism is the disorder that occurs if the thyroid gland isn't active enough.
    In the U.S., about 8 million women have either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism that is unrecognized and untreated.

Some women have a thyroid disorder that began before pregnancy. Others develop thyroid problems for the first time during pregnancy or soon after delivery.

An untreated thyroid disorder during pregnancy is a danger to both mother and baby. For mothers, the risks include a pregnancy-related form of high blood pressure (called preeclampsia) and other pregnancy complications. For babies, the risks include preterm birth, decreased mental abilities, thyroid disorder and even death. But with proper treatment, most women with thyroid disorders can have a healthy baby.

What you can do
If you have a thyroid condition, be sure to tell the health care provider who will take care of you during your pregnancy. It's best if you do this before you become pregnant.

If you are already pregnant, continue taking your medication and talk to your provider as soon as possible. Many medications used to treat thyroid disease in pregnancy are safe for a baby. But radioactive iodine, which is sometimes used to treat hyperthyroidism, should not be taken during pregnancy. In addition, your blood levels need to be monitored and the amount of medication you take may need to be adjusted as your pregnancy progresses.

Health care providers do not routinely perform thyroid screening for women who are planning to get pregnant or who are newly pregnant. If you think you might have a thyroid condition—or if you have a family history of thyroid disease—ask your provider if you should be tested.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism

  • Nervousness, anxiety attacks, or irritability
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Rapid heartbeat, irregular heartbeat, or pounding of the heart (palpitations)
  • Shaking hands and fingers
  • Inappropriate sweating
  • Increased sensitivity to heat
  • More frequent bowel movements
  • Changes in menstrual patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty sleeping

Symptoms of hypothyroidism

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Dry skin
  • Hoarseness
  • Heavier than normal menstrual periods
  • Depression
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Muscle weakness

Many of these symptoms are also related to other health conditions. So having some of them does not always mean you have thyroid disease. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, be sure to tell your health care provider.

For more information, contact the American Thyroid Association, (703) 998-8890.

January 2007

Most common questions

What is mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis (also called mono) is an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It’s sometimes caused by another virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV). EBV and CMV are part of the herpes virus family. Mono is most common in teenagers and young adults, but anyone can get it. Mono is called the “kissing disease” because it’s usually passed from one person to another through saliva. In addition to kissing, it can also be passed through sneezing, coughing or sharing pillows, drinks, straws, and toothbrushes.

You can have mono without having any symptoms. But even if you don’t get sick, you can still pass it to others. Symptoms can include:

  • Achy muscles
  • Belly pain
  • Fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in your neck

If your symptoms don’t go away or get worse, tell your health care provider. He’ll most likely do a physical exam and test your blood to find out for sure if you have mono.

There’s no vaccine to prevent mono. There’s also no specific treatment. The best care is to take it easy and get as much rest as you can. It may take a few weeks before you fully recover.

Can Rh factor affect my baby?

The Rh factor may be a problem if mom is Rh-negative but dad is Rh-positive. If dad is Rh-negative, there is no risk.

If your baby gets her Rh-positive factor from dad, your body may believe that your baby's red blood cells are foreign elements attacking you. Your body may make antibodies to fight them. This is called sensitization.

If you're Rh-negative, you can get shots of Rh immune globulin (RhIg) to stop your body from attacking your baby. It's best to get these shots at 28 weeks of pregnancy and again within 72 hours of giving birth if a blood test shows that your baby is Rh-positive. You won't need anymore shots after giving birth if your baby is Rh-negative. You should also get a shot after certain pregnancy exams like an amniocentesis, a chorionic villus sampling or an external cephalic version (when your provider tries to turn a breech-position baby head down before labor). You'll also want to get the shot if you have a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy or suffer abdominal trauma.

I had a miscarriage. How long should I wait to try again?

Before getting pregnant again, it's important that you are ready both physically and emotionally. If you don't need tests or treatments to discover the cause of the miscarriage, it's usually OK for you to become pregnant after one normal menstrual cycle. However, it may take longer for you to feel emotionally ready to be pregnant again. Everyone responds differently to a miscarriage. Only you will know when you are ready to try to get pregnant again.

Are gallstones common during pregnancy?

Not common, but they do happen. Elevated hormones during pregnancy can cause the gallbladder to function more slowly, less efficiently. The gallbladder stores and releases bile, a substance produced in the liver. Bile helps digest fat. When bile sits in the gallbladder for too long, hard, solid nuggets called gallstones can form. The stones can block the flow of bile, causing indigestion and sometimes serious pain. Staying at a healthy weight during pregnancy can help lower your risk of gallstones. Exercise and eating foods that are low in fat and high in fiber, like veggies, fruits and whole grains, can help, too. Symptoms of gallstones include nausea, vomiting and intense, continuous abdominal pain. Treatment during pregnancy may include surgery to remove the gallbladder. Gallstones in the third trimester can be managed with a strict meal plan and pain medication, followed by surgery several weeks after delivery.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).