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Thyroid Disease in Pregnancy

Casey, Brian M. MD; Leveno, Kenneth J. MD

doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000244103.91597.c5
Clinical Expert Series

Thyroid testing during pregnancy should be performed on symptomatic women or those with a personal history of thyroid disease. Overt hypothyroidism complicates up to 3 of 1,000 pregnancies and is characterized by nonspecific signs or symptoms that are easily confused with complaints common to pregnancy itself. Physiologic changes in serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and free thyroxine (T4) related to pregnancy also confound the diagnosis of hypothyroidism during pregnancy. If the TSH is abnormal, then evaluation of free T4 is recommended. The diagnosis of overt hypothyroidism is established by an elevated TSH and a low free T4. The goal of treatment with levothyroxine is to return TSH to the normal range. Overt hyperthyroidism complicates approximately 2 of 1,000 pregnancies. Clinical features of hyperthyroidism can also be confused with those typical of pregnancy. Clinical hyperthyroidism is confirmed by a low TSH and elevation in free T4 concentration. The goal of treatment with thioamide drugs is to maintain free T4 in the upper normal range using the lowest possible dosage. Postpartum thyroiditis requiring thyroxine replacement has been reported in 2% to 5% of women. Most women will return to the euthyroid state within 12 months.

Reports linking subclinical thyroid dysfunction during pregnancy with an increase in preterm birth and impaired neurodevelopment in offspring have prompted recommendations for universal thyroid screening of pregnant women; however, recommendations for routine screening are premature. Treatment of overt hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism clearly improved pregnancy outcomes. Management of subclinical thyroid dysfunction, especially subclinical hypothyroidism, is however problematic pending further research. Supplemental Digital Content is Available in the Text.

From the 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas.

Corresponding author: Brian M. Casey, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 5323 Harry Hines Boulevard, Dallas, Texas 75390-9032; e-mail:

Continuing medical education is available online at

© 2006 by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.