What happens to the normal thyroid during pregnancy?

Thyroid. 1999 Jul;9(7):631-5. doi: 10.1089/thy.1999.9.631.


Hormonal changes and metabolic demands during pregnancy result in profound alterations in the biochemical parameters of thyroid function. For the thyroidal economy, the main events occurring during pregnancy are: a marked increase in serum thyroxine-binding globulin levels; a marginal decrease in free hormone concentrations (in iodine-sufficient conditions) that is significantly amplified when there is iodine restriction or overt iodine deficiency; a frequent trend toward a slight increase in basal thyrotropin (TSH) values between the first trimester and term; a direct stimulation of the maternal thyroid gland by elevated levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which occurs mainly near the end of the first trimester and can be associated with a transient lowering in serum TSH; and finally, modifications of the peripheral metabolism of maternal thyroid hormones. Together, metabolic changes associated with the progression of gestation in its first half constitute a transient phase from a preconception steady-state to the pregnancy steady-state. In order to be met, these metabolic changes require an increased hormonal output by the maternal thyroid gland. Once the new equilibrium is reached, increased hormonal demands are maintained until term, probably through transplacental passage of thyroid hormones and increased turnover of maternal thyroxine (T4), presumably under the influence of the placental (type III) deiodinase. For healthy pregnant women with iodine sufficiency, the challenge of the maternal thyroid gland is to adjust the hormonal output in order to achieve the new equilibrium state, and thereafter maintain the equilibrium until term. In contrast, the metabolic adjustment cannot easily be reached when the functional capacity of the thyroid gland is impaired (such as in autoimmune thyroid disease and hypothyroidism) or when pregnancy takes place in healthy women residing in areas with a deficient iodine intake. The ideal dietary allowance of iodine recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) is 200 microg iodine per day for pregnant women. In conditions with iodine restriction, enhanced thyroidal stimulation is revealed by relative hypothyroxinemia and goitrogenesis. Goiters formed during gestation may only partially regress after parturition. Pregnancy, therefore, represents one of the environmental factors that may explain the higher prevalence of goiter and thyroid disorders in the female population. An iodine-deficient status in the mother also leads to goiter formation in the progeny. When adequate iodine supplementation is given early during pregnancy, it allows for the correction and almost complete prevention of maternal and neonatal goitrogenesis. In summary, pregnancy is accompanied by profound alterations in the thyroidal economy, resulting from a complex combination of factors specific to the pregnant state, which together concur to stimulate the maternal thyroid machinery. Increased thyroidal stimulation induces, in turn, a sequence of events leading from physiological adaptation of the thyroidal economy observed in healthy iodine-sufficient pregnant women, to pathological alterations, affecting both thyroid function and the anatomical integrity of the thyroid gland, when gestation takes place in conditions with iodine restriction or deficiency: the more severe the iodine deficiency, the more obvious, frequent, and profound the potential maternal and fetal repercussions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chorionic Gonadotropin / physiology
  • Female
  • Goiter / etiology
  • Goiter / physiopathology*
  • Goiter / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Iodine / deficiency
  • Iodine / metabolism*
  • Iodine / therapeutic use
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology*
  • Thyroid Gland / physiology*
  • Thyroid Gland / physiopathology
  • Thyroid Hormones / physiology


  • Chorionic Gonadotropin
  • Thyroid Hormones
  • Iodine