January 8, 2007
Contact: Claudie Benjamin
Phone: (973) 972-2887
UMDNJ-NJMS Associate Dean Urges Thyroid Testing During Pregnancy
Dr. Alex Stagnaro-Green Cites Thyroid Problems’
Link to Miscarriage, Premature Birth
NEWARK — An associate dean at New Jersey Medical School at UMDNJ and a physician on staff at The University Hospital in Newark, has an important message for expectant mothers with certain common pre-existing health problems: thyroid disease can cause miscarriage, preterm delivery and impact the intellectual development of your unborn child.
Alex Stagnaro-Green, M.D., M.H.P.E., a professor of medicine, obstetrics, gynecology, and women's health in addition to his clinical and administrative responsibilities, is one of the leading experts in the growing research field linking thyroid disease to potential problems with pregnancy.
Speaking out in recognition of January being Thyroid Awareness Month, Dr. Stagnaro-Green recommends thyroid function testing and thyroid antibody screening during pregnancy for all women who have previously had a miscarriage or a preterm delivery, as well as women with Type I diabetes, other autoimmune disorders or a family history of such disorders. Such a test can be performed at any medical laboratory with a prescription from a woman’s doctor.
After nearly two decades of research, Dr. Stagnaro-Green said the lack of screening of pregnant women for thyroid antibodies can have devastating consequences, including premature birth and even miscarriage. He published the initial study showing the association between the presence of thyroid antibodies and miscarriage in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1990. His more recent study, published in the journal Thyroid in 2005, demonstrated the association between pre-term delivery and thyroid abnormalities.
But thyroid problems, Dr. Stagnaro-Green noted, may not be apparent to physicians because of a lack of symptoms.
"Twenty percent of the women in the New York metropolitan area have thyroid antibodies, (yet also have) perfectly normal thyroid function," he said. "Just by having those antibodies, their risk of miscarriage doubles."
In addition, he said, 1 in 50 pregnant women have undiagnosed underactive thyroids, an even more serious medical condition.
Dr. Stagnaro-Green said that having a healthy thyroid during the first three months of pregnancy is critical to the normal development of the brain and therefore the normal psychomotor and intellectual function of the child.
The link between undetected thyroid disease and premature birth, he said, could contribute to the more than 500,000 babies born premature annually in the U.S. as of 2004. And, since preterm delivery is the leading cause of neonatal death and congenital neurological disability, addressing the needs of patients with these problems costs the nation in excess of $26 billion each year, according to the March of Dimes.
Dr. Stagnaro-Green is also a member of "The International Panel on Guidelines for Pregnancy and the Thyroid," sponsored by the Endocrine Society, which will soon be releasing definitive recommendations on the care of pregnant women with thyroid problems. He said he believes that universal screening for thyroid disorders will eventually become part of the standard of care for expectant mothers.
UMDNJ is the nation's largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health, on five campuses. Last year, there were more than two million patient visits to UMDNJ facilities and faculty at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates The University Hospital (UH), a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a mental health and addiction services network.