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Thyroid levels critical in pregnancy

Wednesday November 9th, 2016

Boosting thyroid hormone levels among at-risk pregnant women could reduce the rate of stillbirths, early caesarean sections and low-weight babies, a conference will hear today.

The research comes from Cardiff University, UK. Dr Peter Taylor and colleagues explain that 2% to 3% of pregnant women have mild hypothyroidism - low levels of thyroid hormones, which are essential for foetal brain development. This can be treated with a hormone replacement drug called levothyroxine.

The team measured more than 13,000 women at 12 to 16 weeks of pregnancy. Among these, about 4% had mild hypothyroidism and about half of this group were given levothyroxine.

Those taking the drug had a lower risk of low birthweight babies, stillbirth, and early caesarean. But in the analysis, there was no significant difference between the two groups when all outcomes were combined.

According to Dr Taylor, more substantial benefits could be seen if pregnant women were treated at an earlier stage than they were in this study.

The study is presented today (9 November) at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Brighton, UK.

Dr Taylor says: "Our work raises the possibility of providing real benefits from using a safe, cheap and well established treatment by simply extending it to the number of pregnant women we treat. We should consider universal thyroid screening in pregnancy as it compares favourably in terms of cost-effectiveness with other conditions that we currently screen for."

The team previously found that children who have a certain common gene variant and lower thyroid hormone levels are at risk of an IQ under 85, and should be screened.

Dr Taylor says: "If other studies confirm our finding then there may be benefit in carrying out a genetic test for this gene variant in addition to the standard neonatal thyroid screening."

Taylor, P. Controlled antenatal thyroid screening study; obstetric outcomes. Oral presentation at the Society for Endocrinology's annual conference, 9 November 2016.

Tags: Childbirth and Pregnancy | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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