Congenital hypothyroidism (CHT) is a condition of thyroid hormone deficiency present at birth. Approximately 1 in 4000 newborn infants has a severe deficiency of thyroid function, while even more have mild or partial degrees. If untreated for several months after birth, severe congenital hypothyroidism can lead to growth failure and permanent mental retardation. Treatment consists of a daily dose of thyroid hormone (thyroxine) by mouth. Because the treatment is simple, effective, and inexpensive, nearly all of the developed world practices newborn screening to detect and treat congenital hypothyroidism in the first weeks of life. more...
Around the world, the most common cause of congenital hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency, but in most of the developed world and areas of adequate environmental iodine, cases are due to a mixture of known and unknown causes. Most commonly there is a defect of development of the thyroid gland itself, resulting in an absent (athyreosis) or underdeveloped (hypoplastic) gland. A hypoplastic gland may develop higher in the neck or even in the back of the tongue. A gland in the wrong place is referred to as ectopic, and an ectopic gland at the base or back of the tongue is a lingual thyroid. Some of these cases of developmentally abnormal glands result from genetic defects, and some are "sporadic," with no identifiable cause.
Congenital hypothyroidism can also occur due to genetic defects of thyroxine or triiodothyronine synthesis within a structurally normal gland. Among specific defects are thyrotropin (TSH) resistance, iodine trapping defect, organification defect, thyroglobulin, and iodotyrosine deiodinase deficiency. In a small proportion of cases of congenital hypothyroidism, the defect is due to a deficiency of thyroid stimulating hormone, either isolated or as part of congenital hypopituitarism.
In some instances, hypothyroidism detected by screening may be transient. The most common cause of this is the presence of maternal antibodies which temporarily impair thyroid function for several weeks.
Cretinism is an old term for the state of mental and physical retardation resulting from untreated congenital hypothyroidism, usually due to iodine deficiency from birth because of low iodine levels in the soil and local food sources. The term, like so many other 19th century medical terms, acquired pejorative connotations as it became used in lay speech. It is now rarely used by physicians.
In the developed world, nearly all cases of congenital hypothyroidism are detected by the newborn screening program. These are based on measurement of TSH or thyroxine (T4) on the second or third day of life. If the TSH is high, or the T4 low, the infant's doctor and parents are called and a referral to a pediatric endocrinologist is recommended to confirm the diagnosis and initiate treatment. Often a technetium thyroid scan is performed to detect a structurally abnormal gland.
The goal of newborn screening programs is to detect and start treatment within the first 1-2 weeks of life. Treatment consists of a daily dose of thyroxine, available as a small tablet. The generic name is levothyroxine, and several brands are available. Commonly used brands in North America are Synthroid, Levoxyl, Unithroid, and Levothroid. The tablet is crushed and given to the infant with a small amount of water or milk. The most commonly recommended dose range is 10-15 μg/kg daily, typically 37.5 or 44 μg.
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