Prenatal Thyroid Screening

February 23, 2010

Pregnancy changes just about everything in a woman's body. It goes far beyond shape and size. When there are any malfunctions within the body during pregnancy, then both mother and baby can be put into jeopardy. Such is the case with hypo- and hyperthyroidism.

Hypo- And Hyperthyroidism

The thyroid gland is a small gland found in the neck and it is responsible for producing hormones that govern metabolism. These hormones assist in the regulation of body weight and heart rate, along with many other functions. If the thyroid either over- or under-produces these vital hormones, the result is hyperthyroidism, which results from overproduction of hormones, and hypothyroidism, the result of underproduction. Either of these situations can lead to miscarriage, premature birth and pre-eclampsia (a condition that is very dangerous for a woman and her unborn baby).

A Call For Closer Guidelines in Thyroid Care

Since thyroid issues can be missed and left undiagnosed, there has been a call for clinical guidelines that will mean close monitoring and treatment of women to ensure there are enough thyroid reserves to carry a woman through pregnancy and the initial months of motherhood. Understanding the possible problems has created a debate over whether all women who are planning a pregnancy or who are already pregnant should have a measurement test for thyroid-stimulating hormone (T.S.H.), the hormone that stimulates the thyroid's production of hormones.

Is Testing Your Thyroid Worth The Time And Money?

There is some question as to whether universal testing would be of value in terms of justifying the expense of testing the millions of women who are pregnant every year in the United States. On top of that, doctors would have to be trained to read the test results, which can sometimes be difficult. At present, only women who are considered to be high risk for thyroid disease and malfunction are tested. While there is agreement with the stance of testing only high risk women, the pressure is being brought to bear given the evidence of damage caused by a wayward thyroid that is left untreated in a pregnant woman. The most common thyroid dysfunction is subclinical hypothyroidism in which T.S.H. Is slightly higher than normal. It often goes undiagnosed because obvious symptoms are not present.

The signs of thyroid malfunction can easily be confused with other pregnancy signs, which is why testing is so valuable. Hyperthyroidism does occur in pregnancies, however, hypothyroidism is more prevalent and occurs in women who have an autoimmune disease. Ten to 20 percent of women of childbearing age test positive for antibodies that attack and destroy the thyroid gland. The miscarriage risk is doubled in these instances.

Net Effect On Children Born To Mothers With Underactive Thyroid

Hypothyroidism can harm an unborn baby's brain development. In research completed in Maine in the 1990s, children who were born to women with an under-active, untreated, thyroid were tested when they were seven to nine years of age and were found to have an IQ of 85 or less as compared to five percent of children born to women with normal thyroid function.

Some doctors and clinics are not waiting any longer for results to come in-they have made the decision to test all women who are considering pregnancy or are already pregnant. Other doctors are still holding back pending results from another body of research that is currently underway and due to be completed in 2015.

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