Management of Graves' disease during pregnancy: the key role of fetal thyroid gland monitoring

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005 Nov;90(11):6093-8. doi: 10.1210/jc.2004-2555. Epub 2005 Aug 23.


Background: Fetuses from mothers with Graves' disease may experience hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism due to transplacental transfer of antithyroid drugs (ATD) or anti-TSH receptor antibodies, respectively. Little is known about the fetal consequences. Early diagnosis is essential to successful management. We investigated a new approach to the fetal diagnosis of thyroid dysfunction and validated the usefulness of fetal thyroid ultrasonograms.

Methods: Seventy-two mothers with past or present Graves' disease and their fetuses were monitored monthly from 22 wk gestation. Fetal thyroid size and Doppler signals, and fetal bone maturation were determined on ultrasonograms, and thyroid function was evaluated at birth. Thyroid function and ATD dosage were monitored in the mothers.

Results: The 31 fetuses whose mothers were anti-TSH receptor antibody negative and took no ATDs during late pregnancy had normal test results. Of the 41 other fetuses, 30 had normal test results at 32 wk, 29 were euthyroid at birth, and one had moderate hypothyroidism on cord blood tests. In the remaining 11 fetuses, goiter was visualized by ultrasonography at 32 wk, and fetal thyroid dysfunction was diagnosed and treated; there was one death, in a late referral, and 10 good outcomes with normal or slightly altered thyroid function at birth. The sensitivity and specificity of fetal thyroid ultrasound at 32 wk for the diagnosis of clinically relevant fetal thyroid dysfunction were 92 and 100%, respectively.

Conclusion: In pregnant women with past or current Graves' disease, ultrasonography of the fetal thyroid gland by an experienced ultrasonographer is an excellent diagnostic tool. This tool in conjunction with close teamwork among internists, endocrinologists, obstetricians, echographists, and pediatricians can ensure normal fetal thyroid function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antithyroid Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Autoantibodies / blood
  • Female
  • Fetus / physiology*
  • Graves Disease / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulins, Thyroid-Stimulating
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Receptors, Thyrotropin / blood
  • Thyroid Gland / diagnostic imaging*
  • Thyroid Gland / physiology
  • Thyroxine / blood
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal*


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