Sheehan’s syndrome affects the function of the pituitary gland and symptoms can be acute or chronic. Sheehan’s syndrome is a rare condition that occurs when a woman’s pituitary gland is damaged during childbirth. Also referred to as postpartum hypopituitarism, this condition can greatly affect hormones and related processes, including milk production, menstrual cycle and egg production and metabolism regulation.
Sheehan’s Syndrome Causes
During pregnancy, the pituitary gland enlarges, sometimes doubling in size, and becomes especially vulnerable to severe drops in blood pressure. If a woman loses a significant amount of blood during childbirth or has severe low blood pressure during or after childbirth, it can damage the pituitary gland, decreasing the number of hormones it produces long-term.
Several different conditions may increase the chance of your blood pressure dropping during or after childbirth, such as:
- Placenta previa
- Placental abruption
- Giving birth to multiples or a baby larger than 8.8 lbs.
Sheehan’s Syndrome Symptoms
Sheehan’s syndrome can be chronic or acute, depending on the amount of damage that occurred to the pituitary gland during childbirth. An acute form of this condition means that there was considerable damage to the gland and symptoms generally appear very soon after childbirth. A chronic form means that there was less damage to the gland and symptoms may not appear for weeks, months or even years after childbirth.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Difficulty breastfeeding or an inability to breastfeed
- Decreased sex drive
- Hypothyroidism (sensitivity to cold, weight gain, dry skin, joint pain and fatigue)
- Irregular menstrual periods or no menstrual periods at all
- Inability to grow pubic or underarm hair
- Low blood sugar
- Low blood pressure
- Breast shrinkage
Sheehan’s Syndrome Diagnosis
Sheehan’s syndrome can be difficult to diagnose since its symptoms can often mimic those of other, more common conditions (such as hypothyroidism) and can sometimes show up long after childbirth. The first step is to discuss your medical history with your doctor, including any complications you experienced during childbirth and if you never produced breast milk or failed to start menstruating after you gave birth.
Some common tests that can help a doctor diagnose Sheehan’s syndrome include:
- Blood tests that detect pituitary hormone levels
- Pituitary hormone stimulation tests
- Imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan
Sheehan’s Syndrome Treatment
Hormone replacement therapy is the most common treatment for Sheehan’s syndrome. Depending on your symptoms, you may receive:
- Levothyroxine (for low production of thyroid-stimulating hormones)
- Growth hormone