Prophylactic postnatal thyroid hormones for prevention of morbidity and mortality in preterm infants

A systematic review of the data from randomised controlled trials provides no evidence that routine thyroid hormone therapy is effective in preventing problems in preterm babies or improves their developmental outcomes. Thyroid hormones are needed for the normal growth and maturity of the central nervous system, as well as the heart and lungs. Children born without sufficient thyroid hormones can develop serious mental retardation. It is believed that low levels of thyroid hormones in the first few weeks after birth (transient hyperthyroxinaemia) in preterm babies born before 34 weeks may contribute to this abnormal development. The review of trials found no evidence that using thyroid hormones routinely in preterm babies is effective in reducing the risk of problems caused by transiently low levels of thyroid hormones.

Authors' conclusions: 

This review does not support the use of prophylactic thyroid hormones in preterm infants to reduce neonatal mortality, neonatal morbidity or improve neurodevelopmental outcomes. An adequately powered clinical trial of thyroid hormone supplementation with the goal of preventing the postnatal nadir of thyroid hormone levels seen in very preterm infants is required.

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Observational studies have shown an association between transiently low thyroid hormone levels in preterm infants in the first weeks of life (transient hypothyroxinaemia) and abnormal neurodevelopmental outcome. Thyroid hormone replacement might prevent this.


To determine whether prophylactic thyroid hormones given to preterm infants without congenital hypothyroidism result in clinically important changes in neonatal and long term outcomes.

Search strategy: 

The standard search strategy of the Neonatal Review Group was used. This included searches of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library, Issue 1, 2006), MEDLINE (1966 - March 2006), EMBASE, PREMEDLINE, and searches of abstracts of conference proceedings, citations of published articles and expert informants.

Selection criteria: 

All trials using random or quasi-random patient allocation in which prophylactic thyroid hormone treatment was compared to control in premature infants.

Data collection and analysis: 

Assessment of trial quality, data extraction and synthesis of data, using relative risk (RR) and weighted mean difference (WMD), were performed using standard methods of the Cochrane Collaboration and its Neonatal Review Group.

Main results: 

Four studies enrolling 318 infants were included. All studies enrolled preterm infants on the basis of gestational age criteria. All studies commenced treatment in the first 48 hours, but used different regimens, dose and durations of treatment. All four studies used thyroxine (T4). Valerio 2004 incorporated one arm with an early short course of T3, then T4 for 6 weeks. Only two studies with neurodevelopmental follow-up were of good methodology (van Wassenaer 1997; Vanhole 1997). All studies were small with the largest (van Wassenaer 1997) enrolling 200 infants.

No significant difference was found in neonatal morbidity, mortality or neurodevelopmental outcome in infants who received thyroid hormones compared to control. van Wassenaer 1997 reported no significant difference in abnormal mental development at 6, 12, 24 months (RR 0.67, 95% CI 0.28, 1.56) or five years (RR 0.66, 95% CI 0.22, 1.99) or cerebral palsy assessed at five years (RR 0.72, 95% CI 0.28, 1.84). Meta-analysis of two studies (van Wassenaer 1997, Vanhole 1997) found no significant difference in the Bayley MDI (WMD -1.14, 95% CI -5.46, 3.19) and PDI (WMD 0.22, 95% CI -4.80, 5.24) at 7 - 12 months. van Wassenaer 1997 reported no significant difference in the Bayley MDI (MD -3.50, 95% CI -11.21, 4.21) and PDI (MD 3.10, 95% CI -3.31, 9.51) at 24 months, IQ scores at 5 years (MD -2.10, 95% CI -7.91, 3.71) and children in special schooling at 10 years (RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.43, 1.83). Meta-analysis of all four trials found no significant difference in mortality to discharge (typical RR 0.76, 95% CI 0.46 to 1.24). van Wassenaer 1997 reported no significant difference in death or cerebral palsy at five years (RR 0.70, 95% CI 0.43 to 1.14). No significant differences were reported for neonatal morbidities, including the need for mechanical ventilation, duration of mechanical ventilation, air leak, CLD in survivors at 28 days or 36 weeks, intraventricular haemorrhage, severe intraventricular haemorrhage, periventricular leucomalacia, patent ductus arteriosus, sepsis, necrotising enterocolitis or retinopathy of prematurity.