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The Basics of Infant Hypothyroidism Diagnosis & Treatment

The first few days of a baby's life often feel like a bit of a whirlwind for new parents. Adjusting to the new routine, the limited sleep, and the care needs of your infant can be all-consuming. During that adjustment period, the subtle signs of infant hypothyroidism can be easy to overlook. Here's a look at what you need to know about hypothyroidism in your newborn and how mass spectrometry testing can help.

What Causes Hypothyroidism in Infants?

There are many things that can cause hypothyroidism in infants. Sometimes, it's the result of a congenital defect such as a poorly developed or completely missing thyroid gland. In some cases, the presence of certain antibodies in the mother's body can block thyroid gland growth during pregnancy. Newborn hypothyroidism can also be due to thyroid hormones that are insufficient or don't work. Other causes can include a lack of iodine in the mother's diet or certain medications taken during pregnancy.

What Are the Signs of Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is difficult to identify even in adult onset cases, but when it comes to infants, it can be even more challenging. The fatigue that seems out of place for an adult is easy to miss in infants because of how much they sleep naturally.

However, infants who struggle with feedings, have choking episodes, and dry or brittle hair may have a thyroid condition. Additionally, short height, poor muscle tone, constipation, and jaundice can also be indicators of thyroid problems. In severe cases, your infant's face may appear puffy, and his or her skin may seem dull.

Some other physical markers that your pediatrician may identify include things like a hoarse-sounding cry, reduction in muscle tone, short limbs, and wide hands paired with short fingers. Some infants with congenital thyroid problems will also have widely spaced skull bones and a markedly large soft spot.

How Is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?

If you or your pediatrician notice any of these signs with your baby, he or she may plan an ultrasound of your baby's thyroid to look for any deformities or other problems. In addition, blood tests will often be run to check the level of thyroid hormone being produced and converted in his or her blood stream.

Sometimes, mass spectrometry testing is conducted to check the thyroid proteins in the blood, known as thyroglobulin. Mass spectrometry supplies allows for the separation and identification of protein markers in the blood. Since thyroglobulin protein is a precursor to the production of thyroid hormone, its presence in the bloodstream can tell doctors a lot about the baby's thyroid function. The thyroid uses that protein to produce both the T3 and T4 hormones necessary for proper thyroid function.

How Is Hypothyroidism Treated?

The treatment for your baby's hypothyroidism will vary based on the actual cause of the condition. In cases of thyroid tumors and other similar problems, he or she may need to have the thyroid gland removed.

Whether surgery is required or not, regulating the levels of thyroid hormone in the body will require supplementation with a prescription. Since any liquid suspension form of thyroid hormone is unreliable in terms of concentration per dose, you'll typically be prescribed a pill form of hormone for your baby. The pill is crushed up and mixed with formula or pumped breast milk. If your child is on a soy formula, you'll need to have the dosage monitored more closely, because soy formula can actually inhibit the absorption of thyroid hormones.

Understanding infant hypothyroidism, the role of mass spectrometry testing in its diagnosis, and the proper treatments can help you to ensure that your baby is tested and treated right away if you see any indications of a problem. Talk with your pediatrician about your concerns as soon as you notice a problem.