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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Sheehan syndrome

Other Names for this Disease
  • Postpartum hypopituitarism
  • Postpartum panhypopituitarism
  • Postpartum panhypopituitary syndrome
  • Postpartum pituitary necrosis
  • Simmond's disease
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What is Sheehan syndrome?

Sheehan syndrome, or postpartum hypopituitarism, is a rare complication of postpartum hemorrhage.[1][2][3] Severe blood loss during or after childbirth can deprive the body of oxygen and seriously damage the pituitary gland. This causes the gland to permanently lose its ability to function properly.[2][3] While some women have very few symptoms, Sheehan syndrome can lead to an adrenal crisis - a life-threatening shortage of the hormone cortisol.[3] Treatment involves lifelong hormone replacement therapy.[2][3]
Last updated: 2/23/2010

What causes Sheehan syndrome?

Sheehan syndrome is caused by severe blood loss during or after childbirth.[1][2][3] Blood loss at that time can be particularly damaging to the pituitary gland (which enlarges during pregnancy), destroying hormone-producing tissue so that the gland cannot function properly.[1][3]  
Last updated: 8/25/2011

What are the signs and symptoms of Sheehan syndrome?

The pituitary gland produces hormones that stimulate breast milk production, growth, reproductive functions, the thyroid and the adrenal glands. A lack of these hormones can lead to a variety of symptoms.[2] While some women may experience early symptoms such as difficulty breastfeeding or an inability to breastfeed (breast milk never "comes in"), in most cases the signs and symptoms of Sheehan syndrome develop slowly, sometimes over a period of months or even years.[3] For many, symptoms become apparent when the body is stressed by  infection or surgery some period of time after delivery. This type of stressor can lead to an adrenal crisis.[1][3] Symptoms that may develop include:[1][2][3]

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Dizziness
  • Amenorrhea
  • Oligomenorrhea (infrequent menstrual periods)
  • Hot flashes
  • Decreased libido
  • Loss of pubic and underarm hair
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed mental functioning
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty staying warm   
Last updated: 8/25/2011

How is Sheehan syndrome diagnosed?

Diagnosis of Sheehan syndrome can be difficult.[1][3] The diagnosis is based on clinical evidence of hypopituitarism in a woman with a history of severe postpartum bleeding.[1] Blood tests to measure hormone levels and CT scan of the head (to rule out other pituitary problems such as a tumor) may help to confirm the diagnosis.[2][3] 
Last updated: 8/25/2011

How is Sheehan syndrome treated?

Treatment involved lifelong estrogen and progesterone hormone replacement therapy. Thyroid and adrenal hormones also must be taken.[2][3] 
Last updated: 8/25/2011

What is the prognosis for Sheehan syndrome?

The outlook with early diagnosis and treatment is excellent.[2] 
Last updated: 2/23/2010