Volume 9, Issue 1, January 2014
Dr YUEN Yuet Ping
Department of Chemical Pathology Prince of Wales Hospital
Congenital hypothyroidism (CH) is an important preventable cause of mental retardation. To prevent irreversible brain damages caused by hypothyroidism, sufficient doses of thyroxine should be started within a few weeks after birth.(1) Since neonates with CH have no obvious or minimal clinical manifestations, biochemical screening in the newborn period has become the best public health strategy for early detection of affected neonates. In Hong Kong, a territory-wide screening programme for CH was started in 1984.(2) Cord blood samples are collected immediately after birth for measurement of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) by a single laboratory dedicated for newborn screening. The incidence of CH in Hong Kong was reported to be 1 in 2,404, which is comparable to that in other populations.
Causes of congenital hypothyroidism
The aetiologies of CH are summarized in Table 1.(7) Approximately 80-85% of CH are caused by thyroid dysgenesis, which is a group of congenital disorders of thyroid gland development or migration. Affected patients may have complete thyroid gland aplasia, hypoplasia or ectopic glands. The large majority of thyroid dysgenesis cases are sporadic and only about 5% has a genetic basis.(8,9) Thyroid dyshormonogenesis describes a group of inherited disorders which affect the biochemical pathway of thyroid hormone synthesis. These disorders collectively account for 10-15% of CH cases. Approximately 1/4 of patients with CH in Hong Kong have some forms of thyroid dyshormonogenesis.(10) Some neonates detected by newborn screening program have transient instead of permanent CH. Although this subgroup of patients does not require life- long thyroid hormone replacement, early identification and treatment in early years of life is equally important.(11) The time course of recovery of the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis in patients with transient CH depends on the underlying cause. Although most of the transient CH are due to acquired conditions such as iodine deficiency or maternal transfer of autoantibodies, a few genetic causes have been described.