A major association has been found between low plasma triiodothyronine concentrations in preterm neonates and their later developmental outcome. Plasma triiodothyronine concentration was measured longitudinally in 280 preterm infants below 1850 g birth weight. Babies whose lowest recorded concentration was less than 0.3 nmol/l had, at 18 months' corrected age, 8.3 and 7.4 point disadvantages in Bayley mental and motor scales and a 8.6 point disadvantage on the academic scale of Developmental Profile II, even after adjusting for a range of antenatal and neonatal factors known to influence later development. Low concentrations of triiodothyronine were strongly associated with infant mortality, but not after adjusting for the presence of respiratory illness. There was no association between plasma triiodothyronine concentrations and somatic growth up to 18 months, and no association with necrotising enterocolitis or later cerebral palsy. Data on postnatal changes in plasma triiodothyronine concentrations are presented for reference purposes. While cited reference ranges for plasma triiodothyronine concentration appear suitable for well infants above 1500 g birth weight, smaller or ill babies often have very low values for many weeks. Our data are relevant to the debate on endocrine 'replacement' treatment in premature babies.
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