Topical iodine and neonatal hypothyroidism

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1995 Dec;149(12):1336-9. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.1995.02170250042006.


Objectives: To determine whether skin care practices with iodine-containing disinfectants are putting patients in the neonatal intensive care unit at risk for primary hypothyroidism. Cutaneous exposure to povidone-iodine antiseptic solutions may be a cause of primary hypothyroidism in neonates.

Design: Prospective pilot study.

Setting: Level III neonatal intensive care unit of a university-affiliated hospital.

Participants: Sequential sample of 47 medial and surgical patients admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit who received cutaneous povidone-iodine applications in preparation for invasive or surgical procedures.

Methods: Seven to 10 days after iodine exposure, capillary blood samples were obtained on filter paper blots for thyroid function testing and urine samples were collected to determine quantitative iodine concentrations. A plasma creatinine level was determined for each subject.

Results: A total of 47 patients were enrolled. The gestational ages of subjects ranged from 26 to 41 weeks (mean, 33.6 weeks); the male-to-female ratio was 28:19; and the birth weights ranged from 0.7 to 5.1 kg(mean, 2.42 kg). The thyroxine level ranged from 20 to 187 nmol/L (1.6 to 14.6 micrograms/dL) (mean, 102 nmol/L [7.9 micrograms/dL];reference, > or = 90 nmol/L [> or = 7 micrograms/dL]; and the thyrotropin level ranged from 0.1 to 16.5 mU/L (mean, 6.4 mU/L; reference, < 20 mU/L). The mean uridine iodine concentration was 2798.0 micrograms/dL (reference, < 40 micrograms/dL), and the mean plasma creatinine level was 60 mumol/L (0.69 mg/dL) (reference, < or = 50 mumol/L [ < or = 0.6 mg/dL] for males and < or = 40 mumol/L [ < or = 0.5 mg/dL] for females).

Conclusions: There was no documentation of primary hypothyroidism in our subjects despite elevated urine iodine levels. While it is still possible that patients who receive long-term iodine exposure in other settings (eg, cardiac catheterization) are at risk for primary hypothyroidism, our study suggests that the amount of iodine absorbed through routine neonatal intensive care unit procedures does not substantially alter thyroid function during the first 10 days of life. An important confounding variable is that seven patients were receiving dopamine hydrochloride infusions and four were receiving dexamethasone phosphate at the time of sample collection. We therefore cannot rule out the possibility that these medications masked a thyrotropin level elevation that would have occurred in a primary hypothyroid state. We discuss implications for the interpretation of the results of neonatal thyroid function tests.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / adverse effects*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothyroidism / blood
  • Hypothyroidism / chemically induced*
  • Hypothyroidism / urine
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Povidone-Iodine / adverse effects*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Skin Care / adverse effects*


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Povidone-Iodine