Objective: In view of the fact that, during the first period of life, thyroid hormones are critical for brain development, we investigated whether even transient congenital hypothyroidism could affect the long-term intellectual development of affected infants.
Design: A case-control study of intellectual development, auxometric parameters and thyroid function performed in late infancy in children with documented transient congenital hypothyroidism or hyperthyrotrophinaemia at birth.
Patients: Nine children born in an endemic goitre area who had short-term transient congenital hypothyroidism or hyperthyrotrophinaemia after birth (TCH) were studied and compared to nine matched children born in the same area at the same time but having normal thyroid function at birth (N).
Measurements: Global, verbal and performance IQs were evaluated on the Wechsler scale. Height, bone age, total and free thyroid hormones, thyroid volume, thyroglobulin, basal and TRH stimulated TSH were also measured.
Results: Height and bone age were similar in the two groups. Thyroid function tests were also similar in the two groups except for basal and TRH stimulated serum TSH and serum Tg which were higher in the TCH than in the control group. Global, verbal and performance IQs were systematically lower in the TCH than in the N group. (78.3 +/- 11.1 vs 90.9 +/- 14.2, P < 0.05; 84.4 +/- 15.4 vs 96.2 +/- 14.8, P NS; 75.0 +/- 8.5 vs 89.2 +/- 12.5, P < 0.01 respectively).
Conclusion: Infants born and living in an academic goitre area, who had biochemical signs of thyroid hypo-function at birth, had a lower intelligence quotient at the age of 7-8 years than matched controls living in the same environmental conditions but with normal thyroid function at birth. The present findings strongly suggest that abnormalities in thyroid function at birth, even when transient, can adversely affect long-term intellectual development.