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Special Considerations: Thyroid, Diabetes, Lupus

Jessica Evert, MD

doctor talking to patientThe pregnancy information and descriptions offered in this document thus far have discussed the prenatal care process for a relatively healthy young woman. Not every woman who gets pregnant is necessarily healthy or young, however. The following sections of this document describe ways that doctors typically modify prenatal care recommendations when various conditions are present that complicate pregnancy.

Thyroid Diseases

Hyperthyroidism. The prefix "hyper" means "over" or "above". Hyperthyroidism occurs when a person's thyroid gland (located at the front of the neck, and secreting hormones that regulate many metabolic processes) becomes overactive. The most common form of hyperthyroidism is known as Grave's disease. Hyperthyroidism can start during pregnancy, triggering various symptoms to appear, including hard or fast heartbeats, nervousness, trouble sleeping, nausea, and weight loss. As most of these symptoms are likely to happen anyway during pregnancy, it can be easy to miss that they are being caused by a hyperthyroid condition.

It is important that doctors control hyperthyroidism in pregnant women. Hyperthyroidism has a tendency to become severe in the third trimester of pregnancy, and sometimes leads to premature labor. A pregnant woman's poorly controlled hyperthyroidism can cause her to be at increased risk for miscarriage, premature labor, pre-eclampsia (late term high blood pressure), stillbirth, low birth weight, and even heart failure.

A mother's hyperthyroidism can affect her baby's health as well as affecting the quality of her pregnancy. Up to 5% of babies born to women with Graves’ disease have hyperthyroidism. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism in the fetus include high fetal heart rate, poor growth, abnormal bone development, and an enlarged thyroid gland.

If you have hyperthyroidism, your doctor may measure your levels of thyroid hormone every month, and may also perform additional tests, such as prenatal sonography and fetal blood tests. Your doctor will also likely take steps to control your hyperthyroid condition. Treating maternal hyperthyroidism can be complicated as some of the medications used to treat the condition can be harmful to the fetus. For example, radioactive iodine, a common treatment for hyperthyroidism, cannot be used during pregnancy because of the likelihood that this treatment will damage the fetus' own thyroid gland. Fortunately, several medications, including Propylthiouracil (also called PTU), Methimazole (MMI), and Propanolol, may be safely used to treat hyperthyroidism during pregnancy. Surgical removal of the thyroid gland may become necessary when a pregnant woman fails to respond to medication treatment of her hyperthyroidism.

Hypothyroidism. The prefix "hypo" means "under" or "below". Hypothyroidism, is a disease characterized by an under-active thyroid gland. Common among women of child-bearing age, hypothyroid can be difficult to detect, as its symptoms, such as tiredness and weight gain, are similar to normal pregnancy symptoms. Fortunately, a simple blood test can detect hypothyroidism, and the condition can be treated with thyroid hormone replacement medication such as Levothyroxine. Women who had hypothyroidism prior to becoming pregnant will often need to take a higher dose of the medication during their pregnancies so as to keep their hormones at necessary levels. In general, women with hypothyroidism can expect to have blood tests done every 4 to 6 weeks in order to monitor their thyroid hormone level.

It is important to test for and treat hypothyroid conditions in pregnant women as they are otherwise associated with negative outcomes. Being hypothyroid can reduce a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant. Pregnant woman with hypothyroidism have a high chance of first trimester miscarriage. Should pregnancy continue after the first trimester, there remains a chance that the child will have congenital abnormalities, be born with a low birth weight, and demonstrate impaired psychomotor development.

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus is a disease affecting blood sugar metabolism. Diabetes complicates pregnancy in multiple ways. It negatively affects the pregnancy itself, causing an increased risk of spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), macrosomia (large sized fetus), preterm birth, and respiratory problems. It also negatively affects the health of the pregnant woman, who is at increased risk for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), ketoacidosis, increased microvascular complications (such as poor circulation and eye damage), kidney infections, and hypertension. Because of these risks, it is very important that diabetic women maintain close contact with medical personnel before and throughout their pregnancies.

Pregnant diabetic women will undergo a battery of blood and urine tests early in pregnancy. They may also be asked to have an electrocardiogram (a measure of heart rhythm) and a comprehensive eye exam to measure retinopathy (eye tissue damage). Throughout the course of their pregnancies, they may be asked to consult with a diverse team of health care professionals, including nutritionists, nurses, diabetic educators, social workers, and their doctor, to help them remain healthy and motivated throughout their pregnancy. They will need to touch base with their health care team and doctor so that appropriate monitoring of their health and the health of their pregnancies can take place at least every two weeks until 32 weeks of gestation and then every week until delivery to monitor the baby’s development.

Research has demonstrated that good glycemic (sugar) control can lower diabetic's pregnancy risks substantially, particularly during the first seven weeks of fetal development when organs are being formed. Maintaining good sugar control requires that pregnant women adhere to a strict personalized meal plan and diabetic diet, monitor their glucose levels on a regular basis, and carefully document their blood sugar levels and medication dosages throughout their pregnancies. They must also strictly adhere to their medication regimen. Insulin is completely safe to use during pregnancy (so long as it is used appropriately). However, other medications that may have been prescribed prior to the pregnancy may not be safe to take during pregnancy.

Though they require a great deal of discipline, the dietary and medical treatments described above are capable of reducing and even eliminating many of the problems associated with diabetic pregnancy.  Close attention to glycemic control, careful blood sugar monitoring, insulin dosing, diet modifications, and regular doctor visits help to increase the likelihood of an uncomplicated pregnancy.


Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which a person's own immune system attacks and inflames that person's own body tissues resulting in symptoms including fatigue, swollen joints, rashes and other serious symptoms. Pregnant women with Lupus are at risk for pregnancy complications, including high blood pressure, diabetes, hyperglycemia, blood clots in the placenta, toxemia, preterm delivery, and sudden emergent need for Cesarean birth. Of these various risks, the largest is that of premature delivery, which can result in the baby having difficulty breathing, being jaundiced and having low blood counts. The majority of babies born to women with Lupus do not develop the disease themselves. However, about 3% of babies born to mothers who have Lupus develop Neonatal Lupus. The symptoms of Neonatal Lupus are a transient rash, transient blood count abnormalities, and rare but often treatable heart beat abnormalities. Babies who experience Neonatal Lupus without heart beat abnormalities are generally symptom free by six months of age.

Women with Lupus who desire to get pregnant should put off conception until they have been symptom free for at least six months if possible. Once pregnant, women with Lupus have different symptom experiences. While some women experience a flare of symptoms during pregnancy, others actually improve. Often, it is difficult for doctors to determine which symptoms during a Lupus pregnancy are caused by the pregnancy itself and which are symptoms of the disease.

Lupus is a serious and chronic disease that continues to avoid cure. Only several decades ago, doctors used to counsel women with Lupus to avoid having children of their own. Today, most women with Lupus can successfully carry a healthy pregnancy. Ongoing prenatal care and careful medical planning are vital parts of a Lupus pregnancy. Because of the complications that can arise in pregnant women who have Lupus, all Lupus pregnancies are considered high risk. All pregnant women with Lupus should plan to deliver in a health care facility with a neonatal intensive care unit in case of premature delivery.

If you have Lupus and plan to become pregnant, or are already pregnant, it is important that you discuss your treatment options with your doctor at your earliest convenience. Your doctor will likely need to adjust your medications, for one thing, and will want to follow your progress closely throughout your pregnancy so as to best insure your health. As with other conditions, some medications will be safe to continue during pregnancy, while others may harm your developing fetus. More information about pregnancy and Lupus can be found at the Lupus Foundation of America website.

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Reader Comments

T1 diabetes, coeliac disease and hypothyroidism - Neus Segura - Apr 4th 2018


i am 22 years old and have had T1 diabetes, coeliac disease and hypothyroidism for ten years. In the future i wish to have kids, however i am very scared to do so in case there are any complications or if they suffer from autoimmune diseases like me. It makes me depressed and scared, and feel like i am the only one with this problem. I would like to read more comments of the experience from people like me who have gone through pregnancy, so please share your stories if you can relate.

Thank you and wish you the best,


sugesstion - - Nov 5th 2017


Am 7 weeks pregnant  with Thyroid and Diabetes diagnosed since 3 years. I had taken my scan today and doc says the heart beat for the fetus is very low than the normal. they have given HCG injection and asked to wait for two more days and see if the heart beat increases.

Does it happen that heart beat can be increased and gone lil high in two days.

Kindly suggest.

Already pregnant - priya kadam - Nov 28th 2016

i am 36year old having thyroid and diabetics too, need to decide continue pregnancy ,i plan for it and what precutions i have to take for it my thyroid :  current blood test result for : T3 2.23 pg/ml, T4 0.91 ng/ml, TSH 1.86  and diabetics (109 fasting and 236PP)

Lupus, hypothyroid, have hope for more children - Annie - Feb 10th 2016

Hi I have had hypothyroidism ever since I was young(about 10 years old) and I was on levothyroxine for many years. my husband and I got pregnant with our first child and I was on medications until I have birth at 39 weeks, full term healthy baby. Was diagnosed with lupus shortly after delivery and we got pregnant with our second child. Tiring pregnancy but made it to 38 weeks full term but my daughter was diagnosed as having anemia at 20 months old. Now pregnant with our third and symptoms have been worse am 27 weeks but since I have both hypothyroid and lupus it caused another problem (PCOS) and have been given bad news that I might need a hysterectomy in a few years. You can still have a full term baby with these illnesses but u just need to follow up closely with your ob gyn and endocrinologist every four weeks to make sure your levrls are ok. Good luck to all of you who are trying to get pregnant And best wishes. 

Thyroid and diabetic - Aarti Sharma - Apr 27th 2015

i am 31 year old having thyroid and diabetics too i want to have baby should i plan for it and what precutions i have to take for it my thyroid  (5.56) and diabetics (149 fasting and 205PP)

hypothyroidism and hoping for a child - - Sep 26th 2014

i am only 21 years old but i love kids even at a young age i knew all i wanted to do was be a mother. When i was only 17 years old i started to have symptoms of hypothyroidism and sure enough after a blood test i was put on a very low dose of levothyroxine. I have been on it for the last 4 years. I have found a man who cares about me very much we have even talked about getting married and starting a family. out of my own ceriousity about my condition i was wondering how it would effect me if i were to ever have a child, and honestly with what i have found i am a little tariffied. with already being on the lowest does i could be on for the medication how drasticlly would it change to have a better chance to have a healthy pregnancy? and what sort of things could i expect in the pregnancy? i am just cerious as to what i could possiblly do. as my boyfriend has just started in his career it will be a little while but i like to have all the information i can. if anyone has any advise to share with me on what i could do and or expect that would be much helpful. thank you so much

lupus, thyroid and pregnancy - - Oct 20th 2010

I have lost two babies this year already to miscarriage both very early around 6 weeks. Im now 6 weeks pregnant again have been put on clexane and been told my thyroid has gone from one extreme to the other and i no longer "feel" pregnant some symptoms have disappeared :( im just sitting round waiting for the inevitable to happen AGAIN :'( will i ever get to full term ?

daughter diagnosed - - Jun 23rd 2010



stillborn babys and lupus - jo - Jun 11th 2010

I had lupus and had a still born baby at 21 weeks,this was diagnosed after a blood test,I also had 6 miscarriages related to lupus,I have five children,1 of whom was born whilst on clexane and asprin,so don't give up hope of a successfull pregnancy after a stillbirth,jo.

thyroid - mari - Jun 13th 2008

The thyroid causes almost all mental and physical problems. It is not often caught early or treated correctly. A low pulse, and/or low temperature are two early indications. Also high cholesterol, weight gain(its the cause of our supposed obesity problem). For a list of what it can cause go to thyroidsignsandsymptoms. For more info go to stopthethyroidmadness. To find out why this is being left untreated go to The New Barbarians. You may contact me at for more info

- - Oct 26th 2007
Natalie.. did you have any odd symptoms during your pregnancy.  I recently had a still birt and lupus like sympotoms for which I am awaintin results.  prior to the  still birth I had two miscarraiges as well. 

diagnosed with Lupus - Natalie - Oct 20th 2007

I was just diagnosed with Lupos, 4 months after having a stillbirth at 24weeks.  My first pregnancy was a premature birth at 28 wks gestation.  He has a few minor health problems.  During my first pregnancy i was put on bedrest when i was only 12wks due to bleading.  During and after his birth the doctors did several tests to see what was the reason for the difficulties with the pregancy, they did not find anything.  I was told that the odds of me having difficulties with the next pregnancy was almost nothing. so we decided to have another baby.  After only 8 wks i again started bleeding but this time it lasted only a few minutes and all was well up to the 24th week.  after this stillbirth the doctors did more tests and realized that i have lupus.  I only wish this was discovered earlier. we are not sure if we will try to have another as it would be emotionally draining to go through this again.

Positive Doctors - Ashley DeHart - Feb 2nd 2007
I am a mother of one now that was diagnosed with Lupus shortly after delivery.  I did go into pre-term labor but was able to control it with medication and delivered my daughter only 2 weeks early.  Years later my family and I are ready, physically and mentally, for a new baby.  Your article is very straight forward.  I will see my Lupus physician monthly and my OBGYN but they have both shared nothing but positive support and said that we never know what lies ahead during a pregnancy.  Stay as healthy and stress free as possible is the key.

Daughter with Lupus - Ginny - Dec 5th 2006
I try to stay current on lupus information and your article was very interesting. How common is it that environmental conditions the cause of lupus? I guess that would be hard to know because no-one really knows what causes it for sure. Mandy (30) is our little "earth muffin" as we call her. Her lifestyle exposed her to environmental conditions for several years (has been in Africa, has worked with resource conservation in the desert and other areas, has worked along side of migrant workers, etc). Her doctor is very caring and cautious as to Mandy having children. I appreciate your article on the subject. Ginny