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Neonatal Graves Disease
What is Graves disease?
Graves disease is an autoimmune disease. The immune system normally protects the body from germs with chemicals called antibodies. But with an autoimmune disease, it makes antibodies that attack the body’s own tissues. With Graves disease, antibodies cause the thyroid gland to make too much thyroid hormone. This is known as hyperthyroidism. Extra thyroid hormone in the bloodstream leads to the body's metabolism being too active. It can cause problems such as low weight, fast heartbeat, high blood pressure and heart failure.
Graves disease occurs more often in children than in newborns. But it can also occur in newborn babies. If not diagnosed shortly after birth, Graves disease can be fatal to a newborn baby.
What causes Graves disease in newborn babies?
Graves disease in a newborn occurs when the mother has or had Graves disease. The mother’s antibodies can cross the placenta and affect the thyroid gland in the growing baby. Graves disease in a pregnant woman can result in stillbirth, miscarriage or preterm birth.
Which children are at risk for Graves disease?
The biggest risk factor for Graves disease in a newborn is when the mother has or had Graves disease. But not all newborns born to mothers with Graves disease will have the disorder.
What are the symptoms of Graves disease in newborn babies?
Signs can occur a bit differently in each baby. They can include:
- Low birth weight
- Small or abnormally shaped head
- Poor weight gain (failure to thrive)
- Enlarged liver and spleen
- Swelling of the front of the neck due to large thyroid (goiter)
- Fast heartbeat, which can lead to heart failure
- Warm, moist skin
- High blood pressure
- Trouble sleeping
- Bulging eyes
- Trouble breathing if a goiter is pressing on the windpipe
The signs of Graves disease can be like other health conditions. Make sure your baby sees his or her health care provider for a diagnosis.
How is Graves disease diagnosed in newborn babies?
If not diagnosed shortly after birth, Graves disease can be fatal to a newborn baby. The health care provider will ask about your baby’s signs and health history. He or she may also ask about the birth mother’s health history. He or she will give your baby a physical exam. Your baby may also have a blood test to check the level of thyroid hormone and the level of the pituitary hormone. This hormone normally stimulates the thyroid.
How is Graves disease treated in newborn babies?
With treatment right away, babies usually recover fully within a few weeks. But Graves disease may recur during the first 6 months to 1 year of life. The goal of treatment is to restore the thyroid gland to normal function so it makes normal levels of thyroid hormone.
Treatment may include:
- Medicine that blocks the production of thyroid hormones and treats rapid heart rate
- Treatment for heart failure
What are possible complications of Graves disease in newborn babies?
Untreated Graves disease in a newborn can be fatal. It can also cause:
- Early closing of bones in the skull
- Intellectual disability
- Fast growth that slows and then stops early, leading to short height
What can I do to prevent Graves disease?
There is no known way to prevent the disorder. Even women who are cured of Graves disease by ablation of the thyroid gland are still at risk for babies with neonatal Graves disease.
How can I help my child live with Graves disease?
A pregnant woman who had or has Graves disease needs to tell her health care provider as soon as she knows she is pregnant. This is so her baby can be checked at birth and treated right away if needed. With treatment right away, babies usually recover fully within a few weeks. But Graves disease may recur during the first 6 months to 1 year of life. It’s important to watch your baby ongoing for signs of Graves disease.
When should I call my child's health care provider?
Call your baby’s health care provider if you think your baby has signs of Graves disease.