Birthweight and subsequent risk for thyroid and autoimmune conditions in postmenopausal women

J Dev Orig Health Dis. 2022 Aug;13(4):463-470. doi: 10.1017/S204017442100057X. Epub 2021 Oct 18.


The objective of this study was to determine the association between birthweight and risk of thyroid and autoimmune conditions in a large sample of postmenopausal women. Baseline data from the Women's Health Initiative (n = 80,806) were used to examine the associations between birthweight category (<6 lbs., 6-7 lbs. 15 oz, 8-9 lbs. 15 oz, and ≥10 lbs.) and prevalent thyroid (underactive and overactive thyroid and goiter) and autoimmune (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis/Crohn's disease) conditions. Follow-up questionnaire data were used to examine the associations between birthweight and incident underactive and overactive thyroid, lupus, and RA. Logistic and Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to estimate crude and adjusted odds (OR) and hazards ratios (HR), respectively. Overall, women born weighing ≥10 lbs. had an increased risk for underactive thyroid [OR 1.14 (95% CI 1.02, 1.28)] and incident lupus [HR 1.51 (95% CI 1.12, 2.03)] and a decreased risk for overactive thyroid [OR 0.67 (95% CI 0.50, 0.92)] compared to women born weighing 6-7.99 lbs., after adjustment for adult BMI, demographic variables, and lifestyle factors. Further, women born weighing <6 lbs. were at increased risk for underactive thyroid [OR 1.13 (95% CI 1.04, 1.22)]. Birthweight was not associated with other thyroid or autoimmune disorders. High birthweight was associated with later-life thyroid and autoimmune conditions while low birthweight was associated with underactive thyroid. Preconception and prenatal interventions aimed at reducing the risk of both high and low birthweights may reduce the burden of later-life thyroid and autoimmune conditions.

Keywords: Birthweight; autoimmune disease; hyperthyroid; hypothyroid; lupus; postmenopausal women; rheumatoid arthritis; thyroid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Autoimmune Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Birth Weight*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Postmenopause
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk Factors
  • Thyroid Diseases* / epidemiology