What is Sheehan’s Syndrome?

 

Sheehan’s Syndrome can happen when there has been damage to the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. It is often called the ‘master gland’ because it controls several other hormone glands in your body. Sheehan’s Syndome can be caused by a woman losing a large amount of blood or having severely low blood pressure during or after childbirth. This can starve the body of oxygen, which in turn causes damage to organs.

If the pituitary gland is damaged during labour because it’s starved of oxygen, it may no longer be able to store vital hormones. Hormones stored in the pituitary gland help to control various functions in the body including growth, breastfeeding, thyroid function, metabolism (the way the body uses energy), the functions of the sex organs, and other things. Sheehan’s Syndrome can mean that these hormones can no longer be stored and used by the body.

Ellen’s Sheehan’s Syndrome story

Ellen (not her real name) gave birth to her first son in hospital. She lost nearly half a litre of blood during labour. After the birth she had a second degree tear stitched, but the bleeding did not stop. She started to feel unwell and told the midwives, but they couldn’t explain what was happening and didn’t seem concerned.

A few hours later Ellen started to feel cold, clammy and faint. Midwives found her blood pressure had become very low. Eventually Ellen was examined by a doctor who found a large haematoma (a collection of blood) in the wall of her vagina. Ellen had been bleeding heavily for over four hours by this time but a lot of the blood had been collecting internally, and so the midwives had underestimated the amount of blood she had lost. Ellen had to have emergency surgery to have the blood removed. The doctors estimated she had lost about 1.3 litres of blood in all (more than two pints).

In the months after she gave birth, Ellen was completely exhausted and constantly cold. She had lost her appetite and her joints ached all over. She lost a stone from her pre-pregnancy weight and her hair started to fall out. She tried to breastfeed her newborn son but she wasn’t able to because she wasn’t producing enough milk.

After a few months Ellen went to her GP and was referred to an Endocrinologist, a doctor specialising in the glands in the body which produce hormones. Tests showed that Ellen was suffering from the rare endocrine disorder Sheehan’s Syndrome. This had been caused by the amount of blood she had lost after the birth of her son. Ellen’s body now couldn’t produce the hormones that control metabolism (the way the body uses energy), that respond to illness or stress, or that control growth, the production of breast milk or her periods.

Ellen’s Sheehan’s Syndrome could be treated with drugs to artificially replace the hormones her body couldn’t produce any more, but it wasn’t a perfect replacement and she would often suffer periods of fatigue. This meant she wasn’t able to go back to work full-time, and needed extra help around the house and with looking after her son. She also had to be very careful with her dosage of medicine if she became ill or stressed, because her body wasn’t able to respond by itself and her life could be at risk as a result if she didn’t make sure her body received enough of the artificial hormones.

Was there an error in treating your Sheehan’s Syndrome?

We acted for Ellen in her claim. We showed that the midwives treating Ellen during her labour should have raised the alarm much earlier. If this had happened, Ellen’s internal bleeding would have been found much earlier, she wouldn’t have lost as much blood and she wouldn’t have developed Sheehan’s Syndrome.

If you have been given a diagnosis of Sheehan’s Syndrome and you think your labour might not have been managed properly, get in touch with our specialist team for advice.