Subclinical hypothyroidism (SH) is quite common in children and adolescents. The natural history of this condition and the potential effects of replacement therapy need to be known to properly manage SH. The aim of this review is to analyze: i) the spontaneous evolution of SH, in terms of the rate of reversion to euthyroidism, the persistence of SH, or the progression to over hypothyroidism; and ii) the effects of replacement therapy, with respect to auxological data, thyroid volume, and neuropsychological functions.
We systematically searched PubMed, Cochrane, and EMBASE (1990–2012) and identified 39 potentially relevant articles of which only 15 articles were suitable to be included.
Results and conclusions
SH in children is a remitting process with a low risk of evolution toward overt hypothyroidism. Most of the subjects reverted to euthyroidism or remained SH, with a rate of evolution toward overt hypothyroidism ranging between 0 and 28.8%, being 50% in only one study (nine articles). The initial presence of goiter and elevated thyroglobulin antibodies, the presence of celiac disease, and a progressive increase in thyroperoxidase antibodies and TSH value predict a progression toward overt hypothyroidism. Replacement therapy is not justified in children with SH but with TSH 5–10 mIU/l, no goiter, and negative antithyroid antibodies. An increased growth velocity was observed in children treated with levothyroxine (l-T4; two articles). l-T4 reduced thyroid volume in 25–100% of children with SH and autoimmune thyroiditis (two studies). No effects on neuropsychological functions (one study) and posttreatment evolution of SH (one study) were reported.