Millennium Post

Universal screening of newborn babies for Congenital Hypothyroidism need of the hour

With increase in the number of patients suffering from Congenital Hypothyroidism in the state, doctors in the city have stressed on the necessity of implementing universal screening programme among newborn babies.

Doctors who attended a programme in a city hotel on Thursday strongly advocated for a legislation mandating the universal screening programme for newborns. In most cases, it was found that patients were screened at the age of 30.

Doctors have stressed on the importance of early diagnosis as it would become easier for them to treat the patients once the disease is diagnosed at the earliest.

Congenital Hypothyroidism (CH) is a condition that arises when a newborn baby is deficient in thyroid hormone. It is important to be aware about this condition as it is not very common and, if not identified on time, can cause permanent damage to the child’s growth. Thyroid hormone plays an important role in development of the brain and other functions of the body, like metabolism, growth and development.

The first few years of a child’s life are extremely crucial for mental and physical development, as it is the time when the nervous system develops. If adequate amount of thyroid hormone is not available, the human brain cannot develop normally. A child who is diagnosed and treated at a later stage will catch up on physical growth, but will lack appropriate mental development. Therefore, early identification, diagnosis and treatment are essential.

Once a baby is diagnosed with CH, he or she begins to receive thyroid hormone replacement. Levothyroxine is given orally to the patients, which is a synthetic thyroid hormone similar to the hormone secreted by the thyroid gland. Treatment should usually be initiated within the first few weeks of birth.

As per a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research, it affects 1 in 1500 children in Kolkata. In India, according to most of available studies, the prevalence of CH is 1 in 2640 newborns. It can occur because of an anatomic defect in the gland, an inborn error of thyroid metabolism, or iodine deficiency. Worldwide, the condition affects 1 in 3,800 newborn babies.

The disease does not show many symptoms in the baby, after his or her birth, even if there is complete lack of development of the thyroid gland. This is because a small amount of thyroid hormone from the mother is transferred to the baby during pregnancy. Around 10 per cent of infants with CH have other associated abnormalities; most commonly witnessed are cardiac abnormalities, followed by abnormalities of the nervous system and eyes.

Dr Subhankar Chowdhury, Head of Endocrinology Department, SSKM Hospital, while addressing the programme said: “It is unfortunate that patients get the screening done at the age of 30 due to the lack of awareness. This is predominantly a genetic disorder. The treatment becomes easier if the patients are diagnosed early.”

Dr Kaushik Pandit, consultant endocrinologist, Belle Vue Clinic and Fortis Hospital, said: “Congenital Hypothyroidism is an easily identified condition and timely detection can help in fast track treatment procedures. No child deserves to be left undiagnosed. And for this, universal newborn screening is a must. If every newborn is screened, no child will suffer from Congenital Hypothyroidism.”

Dr Sujoy Ghosh, associate professor, Endocrinology department, SSKM HOSPITAL said: “There is a need to have a legislation which mandates universal screening program for newborns. State governments should work towards setting up the process for newborn screening for several conditions, including Congenital Hypothyroidism.”
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