Congenital thyrotoxicosis in premature infants

Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2001 Mar;54(3):371-6. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2265.2001.01173.x.


Objectives: Graves' disease (GD) complicates 0.1% to 0.2% of pregnancies, but congenital thyrotoxicosis is rare occurring in one in 70 of these pregnancies independent of maternal disease status. Antenatal prediction of affected infants is imprecise; however, maternal history, coupled with a high maternal serum TSH receptor binding immunoglobulin index (TBII) predict adverse neonatal outcome. Mortality is reported to be as high as 25% in affected infants and would therefore be expected to be higher in premature infants. This study illustrates that in sick, premature, extreme low birth weight (ELBW) or intrauterine growth retarded (IUGR) infants, the diagnosis maybe overlooked especially in the absence of antenatal risk assessment and management of thyrotoxicosis in this setting is complex.

Design and patients: The records of premature neonates born at the three main maternity units in Brisbane, between January 1996 and July 1998 diagnosed with congenital thyrotoxicosis were reviewed. Data were recorded on gestational age, birth weight (B Wt), maternal thyroid history and current status, and neonatal course. Thyroid function and TBII status was assessed using standard biochemical assays.

Results: Seven neonates from five pregnancies were identified (four female, three male). Mean gestational age was 30 week (25--36 week) and median B Wt was 1.96 kg (0.50--2.62 kg). Only one mother received formal antenatal counselling by a paediatric endocrine service and had a TBII (54%) measured prior to delivery. Three of five mothers had elevated TBII measured after diagnosis in their offspring (57%, 65%, 83%) and in one mother, a TBII was not performed. All mothers were biochemically euthyroid at delivery. Mean age at diagnosis was 9 days (1--16 days) and mean age at commencement of treatment was 12 days (7--26 days). Two infants received propylthiouracil and five received a combination of carbimazole and propranolol. Four became biochemically hypothyroid, in three this resolved with cessation of the antithyroid drug (ATD), and one required ongoing T4 supple-mentation. Only one infant required treatment for cardiac failure and there were no deaths in this cohort.

Conclusions: This is a large series of extremely small and premature infants with neonatal thyro-toxicosis. Presentation was nonspecific. The diagnosis was delayed because of low birth weight, prematurity, multiple birth and/or an unrecognized maternal history of Graves' disease. The treatment of neonatal thyrotoxicosis was difficult in these extreme low birth weight infants yet no infant died and significant morbidity was confined to high output cardiac failure in one infant. With antenatal recognition of past or active Graves' disease, assessment of maternal TSH receptor binding immunoglobulin index prior to delivery and postnatal monitoring of cord TSH and venous fT4 and TSH on days 4 and 7 rapid treatment of affected infants may have further reduced neonatal morbidity.

MeSH terms

  • Antithyroid Agents / therapeutic use
  • Autoantibodies / analysis*
  • Carbimazole / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / chemistry
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / etiology
  • Graves Disease
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulins, Thyroid-Stimulating
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases* / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Propranolol / therapeutic use
  • Propylthiouracil / therapeutic use
  • Receptors, Thyrotropin / analysis*
  • Thyrotoxicosis / blood
  • Thyrotoxicosis / congenital*
  • Thyrotoxicosis / diagnosis
  • Thyrotoxicosis / drug therapy
  • Thyrotropin / blood
  • Thyroxine / blood


  • Antithyroid Agents
  • Autoantibodies
  • Immunoglobulins, Thyroid-Stimulating
  • Receptors, Thyrotropin
  • thyrotropin-binding inhibitory immunoglobulin
  • Propylthiouracil
  • Carbimazole
  • Thyrotropin
  • Propranolol
  • Thyroxine