Should prenatal thyroid testing be routine? Even with possible pregnancy complications and rise in underactive thyroid cases, the answer is not cut and dry.
Over the past decade, numerous studies have found that an underactive thyroid gland during pregnancy may raise a mom-to-be's risk for premature birth, or result in a lower IQ for her baby—even if the thyroid is so mildly sluggish that she feels no symptoms.
But just how common are thyroid issues during pregnancy? According to statistics from one of the country's largest medical labs, of the nearly 500,000 pregnant women who take a standard thyroid blood test, approximately 15 percent of tests will come back showing an underactive thyroid—a number that is five times higher than previous estimates, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Despite this new information, prenatal health experts are still split on whether prenatal thyroid testing should become routine. Women diagnosed with hypothyroidism—a seriously underactive gland—should of course be treated, experts say, most likely with a once-a-day hormone pill known to be safe in pregnancy. But researchers point out that women with thyroid problems that fall in the gray zone—mostly milder cases of low thyroid with few or no symptoms—may not benefit from the same treatment and it is not yet understood what really helps these women during pregnancy.
"We still don't have perfect answers," says Dr. Elizabeth Pearce, an endocrinologist at Boston Medical Center (via AJC). But, "if it's my patient in my office, or it's me or my family member, I'm going to treat every time."
To test or not to test? Currently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends thyroid testing only for pregnant women who have thyroid symptoms (such as hair loss, skin problems, fatigue, and unusual weight gain), moms who have had previous thyroid problems, or women who have autoimmune diseases. But the American Thyroid Association goes one step further to recommend testing all pregnant women age 30 and older, and those with enlarged thyroids, previous pregnancy problems, or those who are obese.
What's right for you? Talk to your doctor or midwife about any thyroid-related symptoms you may be experiencing—and check your prenatal vitamins! Pregnant women should make sure that their prenatal vitamins contain iodine, an important mineral for proper thyroid function, Dr. Pearce recommends. Most Americans get enough iodine from dairy products, bread, seafood, and iodized table salt, but moms-to-be need extra during pregnancy.