Sheehan's syndrome, also known as postpartum pituitary gland necrosis, is hypopituitarism (decreased functioning of the pituitary gland), caused by ischemic necrosis due to blood loss and hypovolemic shock during and after childbirth.
|Synonyms||Simmond's syndrome, postpartum hypopituitarism, postpartum pituitary gland necrosis|
Signs and symptomsEdit
The various signs and symptoms in Sheehan's syndrome are caused by damage to the pituitary, which causes a decrease in one or more hormones it normally secretes (see Pathophysiology section). Since the pituitary controls many glands in the endocrine system, partial or complete loss of a variety of functions may result.
Most common initial symptoms of Sheehan's syndrome are agalactorrhea (absence of lactation) and/or difficulties with lactation. Many women also report amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea after delivery. In some cases, a woman with Sheehan syndrome might be relatively asymptomatic, and the diagnosis is not made until years later, with features of hypopituitarism. Such features include secondary hypothyroidism with tiredness, intolerance to cold, constipation, weight gain, hair loss and slowed thinking, as well as a slowed heart rate and low blood pressure. Another such feature is secondary adrenal insufficiency, which, in the rather chronic case is similar to Addison's disease with symptoms including fatigue, weight loss, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels), anemia and hyponatremia (low sodium levels). Such a woman may, however, become acutely exacerbated when her body is stressed by, for example, a severe infection or surgery years after her delivery, a condition equivalent with an Addisonian crisis. The symptoms of adrenal crisis should be treated immediately and can be life-threatening. Gonadotropin deficiency will often cause amenorrhea, oligomenorrhea, hot flashes, or decreased libido. Growth hormone deficiency causes many vague symptoms including fatigue and decreased muscle mass.
Uncommonly, Sheehan syndrome may also appear acutely after delivery, mainly by hyponatremia. There are several possible mechanisms by which hypopituitarism can result in hyponatremia, including decreased free-water clearance by hypothyroidism, direct syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone (ADH) hypersecretion, decreased free-water clearance by glucocorticoid deficiency (independent of ADH). The potassium level in these situations is normal, because adrenal production of aldosterone is not dependent on the pituitary.
In the developed world it is a rare complication of pregnancy, usually occurring after excessive blood loss. The presence of disseminated intravascular coagulation (i.e., in amniotic fluid embolism or HELLP syndrome) also appears to be a factor in its development.
A 1995 study found that 56.2% of patients with diagnosed Sheehan’s syndrome experienced a loss of all pituitary hormones (with the remaining 43.8% having selective pituitary insufficiency). However, likely because the growth hormone-secreting cells are located at the periphery of the pituitary (and are therefore most likely to be affected by ischemia), all the patients had growth hormone deficiency.
In a study of 1,034 symptomatic adults, Sheehan syndrome was found to be the sixth most frequent etiology of growth hormone deficiency, being responsible for 3.1% of cases (versus 53.9% due to a pituitary tumor).
The specific association with postpartum shock or haemorrhage was described in 1937 by the British pathologist Harold Leeming Sheehan (1900–1988), whereas Simmond's disease occurs in either sex due to causes unrelated to pregnancy.
- First Aid for the Obstetrics and Gynecology Clerkship, p. 226, PITUITARY (HYPOESTROGENIC AMENORRHEA)
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- H. L. Sheehan. Post-partum necrosis of anterior pituitary. The Journal of Pathology and Bacteriology, Chichester, 1937, 45: 189-214.
- Sheehan's syndrome at Who Named It?