Prenatal thyroid screening proves beneficial to women and their children

06/17/04

New Orleans, LA - Routine thyroid screening for women of reproductive age, particularly before they become pregnant, may save money and limit health risks to children, according to new research being presented this week at The Endocrine Society's 86th Annual Meeting in New Orleans. The new findings provide a basis for quantifying costs and assessing effectiveness of different thyroid screening strategies for reproductive age women.

Previous research has shown that low levels of thyroid hormone in pregnant women can cause mildly impaired development in their children. As a result, some experts have advocated screening women of childbearing age for thyroid disease.

In order to assess the potential cost and impact of screening, Dr. Ruth M. Belin and colleagues at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Balitmore gathered data from 5, 516 women ages 17 to 45 from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) performed by the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of American. They found that low thyroid hormone levels affect an estimated 40,000 pregnant and 1.6 million nonpregnant women in the United States. They also concluded that, 3.1 percent of reproductive age women in the United States have low thyroid hormone levels.

"Previous studies have focused on the prevalence of low thyroid hormone levels in women who already know they are pregnant, rather than the prevalence in women who do not realize they are pregnant or could become pregnant. During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, fetal brain development relies on maternal thyroid hormone therefore a targeted screening of women before they become pregnant may prove effective in preventing developmental problems," explained Dr. Belin.

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