Screening for congenital hypothyroidism: comparison of borderline screening cut-off points and the effect on the number of children treated with levothyroxine

Eur Thyroid J. 2013 Sep;2(3):180-6. doi: 10.1159/000350039. Epub 2013 May 8.


Background: The newborn screening programme for congenital hypothyroidism (CH) has led to the prevention of severe developmental delay associated with this condition. In the UK, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) screening cut-off points have changed over time, in some instances prompted by changing methodological platforms. The use of borderline cut-off points varies throughout the country.

Objective: To use discordance in cut-off points to assess the performance of the UK Newborn Screening Programme Centre (UKNSPC) definitions.

Methods: Between January 2006 and December 2007, 223,658 newborn infants were screened by the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) for CH. All children with positive results and those with blood-spot TSH concentrations >6 mU/l on repeat screening were referred to GOSH. We compared the numbers of children detected and treated for CH using the GOSH cut-off points (>6 mU/l) and those of the national screening programme (>10 mU/l). Children were defined as transient CH if levothyroxine treatment had been discontinued by 3 years.

Results: Of the children screened between January 2006 and December 2007, 167 out of 223,658 fulfilled the GOSH screening criteria; 136 of these required levothyroxine treatment, but 29 (21%) of the children treated would not have been detected by the current UKNSPC guidelines. Transient CH was found in 17/47 (36%) of the treated children detected with a cut-off point >6 mU/l. Raising the cut-off point to >10 mU/l reduced the number of children treated for transient CH to 4/18 (22%).

Conclusion: A significant number of children with true and transient CH are missed with a screening cut-off point of >10 mU/l. Our data suggests that a cut-off point of 6 mU/l is appropriate.

Keywords: Congenital hypothyroidism; Levothyroxine; Newborn screening; Thyroid-stimulating hormone.