Thyroid disease in pregnant women needs attention from a clinical and scientific standpoint due to the potential severe adverse consequences. It is well-established that overt thyroid disease in pregnant women should be treated to prevent maternal and fetal complications, but routine testing for overt thyroid function test abnormalities has not been implemented. In contrast, the scientific focus has shifted towards smaller aberrations in maternal thyroid function including subclinical thyroid disease and isolated deviations in maternal thyroxine. In this focused review, we touch upon the assessment of maternal thyroid function in pregnancy and how the historical advancements in thyroid function tests parallel with the thyroid function test abnormalities described. Furthermore, we discuss how the scientific focus has evolved and how the field could turn in view of the existing discrepancies between results of observational studies and randomized controlled trials.
Stine Linding Andersen and Stig Andersen
Stine Linding Andersen and Peter Laurberg
Iodine requirements are increased during pregnancy, predominantly caused by an increase in renal iodide clearance and in the use of iodine for thyroid hormone production. Because iodine deficiency (ID) in pregnancy may be associated with neurodevelopmental deficits in the offspring, a pertinent question is at what level of iodine intake pregnant women should be advised to take iodine-containing supplements. The consensus reached by the WHO/UNICEF/ICCIDD in 2007 was that pregnant women should not be recommended to take iodine-containing supplements if the population in general had been iodine sufficient for at least 2 years. However, guidance on this differs between scientific societies. This review discusses iodine supplementation in pregnancy. Based on current evidence, the recommendations given by WHO/UNICEF/ICCIDD in 2007 provide a valid guidance on the use of iodine supplements in pregnant women. Women living in a population with a median urinary iodine concentration (UIC) at or above 100 µg/l are not in need of iodine supplementation in pregnancy. On the other hand, if the population median UIC is below 100 µg/l, pregnant women should take iodine-containing supplements until the population in general has been iodine sufficient for at least 2 years by way of universal salt iodization.
Stine Linding Andersen, Jørn Olsen, Chun Sen Wu, and Peter Laurberg
Objectives: Maternal hyper- and hypothyroidism have been associated with increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, but studies have led to inconsistent results. We aimed to identify children born to mothers with a hospital-recorded diagnosis of thyroid dysfunction in Denmark and to study the association with gestational age at delivery and birth weight of the child. Study Design: Population-based cohort study using Danish nationwide registers. All singleton live births in Denmark between January 1, 1978 and December 31, 2006 were identified and stratified by maternal diagnosis of hyper- or hypothyroidism registered in the Danish National Hospital Register before January 1, 2007. Results: Maternal first-time diagnosis of thyroid dysfunction before, during or after pregnancy was registered in 32,809 (2.0%) of the singleton live births (n = 1,638,338). Maternal diagnosis of hyperthyroidism (adjusted OR 1.22, 95% CI 1.15-1.30) and hypothyroidism (adjusted OR 1.17, 95% CI 1.08-1.27) were associated with increased risk of preterm birth. Moreover, birth weight in children born to mothers with a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism was lower (adjusted difference -51 g, 95% CI -58 to -43 g) and higher in relation to maternal hypothyroidism (adjusted difference 20 g, 95% CI 10-30 g). Hyperthyroidism was associated with small-for-gestational-age (adjusted OR 1.15, 95% CI 1.10-1.20) and hypothyroidism with large-for-gestational-age children (adjusted OR 1.24, 95% CI 1.17-1.31). Conclusions: Based on Danish nationwide registers, both maternal hyper- and hypothyroidism were associated with increased risk of preterm birth. Actual birth weight of the child and birth weight for gestational age were low if the mother had a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism and high if the diagnosis was hypothyroidism.
Stine Linding Andersen, Jørn Olsen, Chun Sen Wu, and Peter Laurberg
Objectives: Pregnancy loss in women suffering from hyperthyroidism has been described in case reports, but the risk of pregnancy loss caused by maternal hyperthyroidism in a population is unknown. We aimed to evaluate the association between maternal hyperthyroidism and pregnancy loss in a population-based cohort study. Study Design: All pregnancies in Denmark from 1997 to 2008 leading to hospital visits (n = 1,062,862) were identified in nationwide registers together with information on maternal hyperthyroidism for up to 2 years after the pregnancy [hospital diagnosis/prescription of antithyroid drug (ATD)]. The Cox proportional hazards model was used to estimate adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) with 95% confidence interval (CI) for spontaneous abortion (gestational age <22 weeks) and stillbirth (≥22 weeks), reference: no maternal thyroid dysfunction. Results: When maternal hyperthyroidism was diagnosed before/during the pregnancy (n = 5,229), spontaneous abortion occurred more often both in women treated before the pregnancy alone [aHR 1.28 (95% CI 1.18-1.40)] and in women treated with ATD in early pregnancy [1.18 (1.07-1.31)]. When maternal hyperthyroidism was diagnosed and treated for the first time in the 2-year period after the pregnancy (n = 2,361), there was a high risk that the pregnancy under study had terminated with a stillbirth [2.12 (1.30-3.47)]. Conclusions: Both early (spontaneous abortion) and late (stillbirth) pregnancy loss were more common in women suffering from hyperthyroidism. Inadequately treated hyperthyroidism in early pregnancy may have been involved in spontaneous abortion, and undetected high maternal thyroid hormone levels present in late pregnancy may have attributed to an increased risk of stillbirth.
Stine Linding Andersen, Louise Kolding Sørensen, Anne Krejbjerg, Margrethe Møller, and Peter Laurberg
Objectives: Median urinary iodine concentration (UIC) is the recommended method to evaluate iodine status in pregnancy, but several factors may challenge the interpretation of the results. We evaluated UIC in pregnant women according to (1) sampling in the hospital versus at home, (2) time of the most recent iodine supplement intake prior to sampling, and (3) members of their household. Study Design: Danish cross-sectional study in the year 2012. Pregnant women (n = 158), their male partners (n = 157) and children (n = 51) provided a questionnaire with detailed information on iodine supplement intake and a spot urine sample obtained in the hospital and/or at home for measurement of UIC and urinary creatinine concentration. Results: In the pregnant women providing a urine sample both in the hospital and at home (n = 66), individual UIC (p = 0.002) and urinary creatinine concentration (p = 0.042), but not estimated 24-hour urinary iodine excretion (p = 0.79), were higher when sampling was at home. Median UIC was dependent on the time of the most recent iodine supplement intake prior to sampling [same day (n = 79): 150 µg/l (95% CI 131-181 µg/l), the day before (n = 51): 105 µg/l (78-131 µg/l), several days ago/non-user (n = 28): 70 µg/l (56-94 µg/l), p < 0.001]. The pattern was similar in the male partners. Apart from a more frequent iodine supplement intake in pregnancy (87.3% vs. partners 15.9%), no systematic differences were observed in urinary measurements between the pregnant women and their partners. Conclusions: Time of spot urine sampling and time span from iodine supplement intake to spot urine sampling should be considered when evaluating urinary iodine status in pregnancy.
Louise Knøsgaard, Stig Andersen, Annebirthe Bo Hansen, Peter Vestergaard, and Stine Linding Andersen
The assessment of maternal thyroid function in early pregnancy is debated. It is well-established that pregnancy-specific reference ranges preferably should be used. We speculated if the use of repeated blood samples drawn in early pregnancy would influence the classification of maternal thyroid function.
Pregnant women with repeated early pregnancy blood samples were identified in the North Denmark Region Pregnancy Cohort. Each sample was used for the measurement of TSH, free T4 (fT4), thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO-Ab), and thyroglobulin antibodies (Tg-Ab) (ADVIA Centaur XPT, Siemens Healthineers). Method- and pregnancy week-specific reference ranges were used for the classification of maternal thyroid function.
Among 1466 pregnancies included, 89 women had TSH above the upper reference limit in the first sample (median pregnancy week 8) and 44 (49.4%) of these similarly had high TSH in the second sample (median week 10). A total of 47 women had TSH below the lower reference limit in the first sample and 19 (40.4%) of these similarly had low TSH in the second sample. Regarding women classified with isolated changes in fT4 in the first sample, less than 20% were similarly classified as such in the second sample. The percentage agreement between the samples was dependent on the level of TSH in the first sample and the presence of TPO- and Tg-Ab.
In a large cohort of pregnant women, the classification of maternal thyroid function varied considerably with the use of repeated blood samples. Results emphasize a focus on the severity of thyroid function abnormalities in pregnant women.
Allan Carlé, Nils Knudsen, Torben Jørgensen, Bettina Thuesen, Jesper Karmisholt, Stine Linding Andersen, and Inge Bülow Pedersen
Objective: To investigate the association between reproductive history and later development of various nosological subtypes of overt hyperthyroidism. Study Design: From the Danish population, we included incident hyperthyroid women, and for each case we recruited 4 euthyroid age-sex-region-matched controls from the same sub-population. Hyperthyroid cases/controls were: Graves’ disease (GD, n = 232/928), multinodular toxic goitre (MNTG, n = 91/364), solitary toxic adenoma (STA, n = 21/84). Patients diagnosed with hyperthyroidism within 1 year after delivery including post-partum GD were excluded. In multivariate conditional regression models (reference: no reproductive events), we analysed the association between development of GD/MNTG/STA and reproductive factors such as age at menarche/menopause, reproductive span, number of pregnancies/childbirths/abortions, investigations for infertility, and years on oral contraceptives. We adjusted for possible confounders such as alcohol intake, smoking, co-morbidity, and education. Age was studied as a potential effect measure modifier. Results: GD patients diagnosed before the age of 40 years had given births more often than control subjects (OR [95% CI] for 1/2/3+ births [ref.: nulliparous] were 1.57 [0.80–3.11]/2.06 [1.001–4.22]/3.07 [1.50–6.26]), and they had induced abortions performed more often (OR for 1/2+ induced abortions [ref.: no: events] were 0.99 [0.54–1.84]/2.24 [1.12–4.45]). No associations were observed between any reproductive factor and the development of MNTG or STA. Conclusions: Childbirths and induced abortions may be followed by development of Graves’ hyperthyroidism after the post-partum period. This was not the case for the non-autoimmune subtypes of hyperthyroidism.
Maja Hjelm Lundgaard, Allan Carlé, Ulla Birgitte Christiansen, Anne Sørensen, Søren Risom Kristensen, and Stine Linding Andersen
Thyroid disorders have been linked to abnormalities in the coagulation system, and a hypocoagulant state has been proposed in hypothyroidism. The assessment of thyroid function is, however, not routinely recommended as part of the assessment for coagulation disorders.
We present a 32-year-old woman who had no history of thyroid disease and who recently gave birth preterm because of severe preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction. Due to severe placental dysfunction, she underwent a routine biochemical assessment of the coagulation system 6 months postpartum, and a prolonged activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT) (43 s) was identified along with a low level of coagulation factor VIII (0.44 IU/mL), and a low level of von Willebrand factor (vWF) antigen (0.35 IU/mL), vWF activity (0.38 IU/mL) as well as reduced generation of thrombin. The assessment of thyroid function in the patient identified autoimmune, overt hypothyroidism with a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) concentration of 139 mIU/L, low levels of the peripheral thyroid hormones (total thyroxine: 43 nmol/L, total triiodothyronine: 0.9 nmol/L), and high levels of thyroid peroxidase antibodies (296 U/mL) as well as thyroglobulin antibodies (927 U/mL).
In this case, prolonged APTT provided a diagnostic clue for the assessment of thyroid function in a young woman with a recent history of severe placental dysfunction. The identification of autoimmune, overt hypothyroidism emphasizes that measurement of TSH may be of clinical importance in cases of unexplained prolonged APTT or other biochemical signs of abnormalities in the coagulation system.
Hypothyroidism has been associated with alterations of the coagulation system suggesting a hypocoagulant state.
At present, measurement of thyroid-stimulating hormone is not routinely recommended as part of the assessment for coagulation disorders.
In this case, biochemical assessment of the coagulation system was routinely performed following a pregnancy complicated by severe placental dysfunction.
Overt hypothyroidism of autoimmune origin was identified secondary to prolonged activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT) postpartum along with low levels of coagulation factor VIII, von Willebrand factor, and thrombin generation.
Measurement of thyroid-stimulating hormone may be considered in cases of unexplained prolonged APTT.
Stine Linding Andersen, Niels Henrik Bruun, Peter Astrup Christensen, Simon Lykkeboe, Aase Handberg, Annebirthe Bo Hansen, Maja Hjelm Lundgaard, Louise Knøsgaard, Nanna Maria Uldall Torp, Allan Carlé, Jesper Karmisholt, Inge Bülow Pedersen, Peter Vestergaard, and Stig Andersen
Thyroid disease in women of reproductive age is mainly of autoimmune origin, and thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO-Ab) as well as thyroglobulin antibodies (Tg-Ab) are key markers. Adding to this, much focus in pregnancy is on euthyroid women who are thyroid antibody positive. Evidence to substantiate the cut-offs for the definition of thyroid autoantibody positivity in early pregnant women is warranted.
Stored serum samples from 14,030 Danish pregnant women were used for the measurement of TPO-Ab, Tg-Ab, TSH, and free thyroxine (ADVIA Centaur XPT, Siemens Healthineers). Among all women, a reference cohort of 10,905 individuals was identified for the establishment of antibody cut-offs. Percentile cut-offs for TPO-Ab and Tg-Ab were determined using regression on order statistics (the reference cohort). The established cut-offs were then applied (the full cohort), and frequencies of early pregnancy as well as later diagnosis of hypothyroidism were evaluated.
The highest established cut-offs (95th, 97.5th, and 99th percentiles) were 59, 68, and 81 U/mL for TPO-Ab and 33, 41, and 52 U/mL for Tg-Ab. When the cut-offs were applied in the full cohort, 11.0, 10.2, and 9.7% were TPO-Ab positive, whereas 13.3, 12.3, and 11.2% were Tg-Ab positive. Antibody-positive women (TPO-Ab and/or Tg-Ab) had higher median TSH and were more likely to have hypothyroidism in early pregnancy and to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism during follow-up.
This large study established and evaluated pregnancy-specific cut-offs for TPO-Ab and Tg-Ab. The findings are important regarding the classification of exposure in pregnancy and assessment of thyroid autoimmunity per se.