Pregnancy has a profound impact on the thyroid gland and thyroid function. The gland increases 10% in size during pregnancy in iodine-replete countries and by 20%–40% in areas of iodine deficiency. Production of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) increases by 50%, along with a 50% increase in the daily iodine requirement. These physiological changes may result in hypothyroidism in the later stages of pregnancy in iodine-deficient women who were euthyroid in the first trimester.
The range of thyrotropin (TSH), under the impact of placental human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), is decreased throughout pregnancy with the lower normal TSH level in the first trimester being poorly defined and an upper limit of 2.5 mIU/L. Ten percent to 20% of all pregnant women in the first trimester of pregnancy are thyroid peroxidase (TPO) or thyroglobulin (Tg) antibody positive and euthyroid. Sixteen percent of the women who are euthyroid and positive for TPO or Tg antibody in the first trimester will develop a TSH that exceeds 4.0 mIU/L by the third trimester, and 33%–50% of women who are positive for TPO or Tg antibody in the first trimester will develop postpartum thyroiditis. In essence, pregnancy is a stress test for the thyroid, resulting in hypothyroidism in women with limited thyroidal reserve or iodine deficiency, and postpartum thyroiditis in women with underlying Hashimoto’s disease who were euthyroid prior to conception.