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LE Magazine September 2004

Subclinical hypothyroidism is an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction in elderly women: the Rotterdam Study.
BACKGROUND: Overt hypothyroidism has been found to be associated with cardiovascular disease. Whether subclinical hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmunity are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease is controversial. OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether subclinical hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmunity are associated with aortic atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction in postmenopausal women. DESIGN: Population-based cross-sectional study. SETTING: A district of Rotterdam, The Netherlands. PARTICIPANTS: Random sample of 1149 women (mean age +/- SD, 69.0 +/- 7.5 years) participating in the Rotterdam Study. MEASUREMENTS: Data on thyroid status, aortic atherosclerosis, and history of myocardial infarction were obtained at baseline. Subclinical hypothyroidism was defined as an elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone level (>4.0 mU/L) and a normal serum free thyroxine level (11 to 25 pmol/L [0.9 to 1.9 ng/dL]). In tests for antibodies to thyroid peroxidase, a serum level greater than 10 IU/mL was considered a positive result. RESULTS: Subclinical hypothyroidism was present in 10.8% of participants and was associated with a greater age-adjusted prevalence of aortic atherosclerosis (odds ratio, 1.7 [95% CI, 1.1 to 2.6]) and myocardial infarction (odds ratio, 2.3 [CI, 1.3 to 4.0]). Additional adjustment for body mass index, total and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level, blood pressure, and smoking status, as well as exclusion of women who took beta-blockers, did not affect these estimates. Associations were slightly stronger in women who had subclinical hypothyroidism and antibodies to thyroid peroxidase (odds ratio for aortic atherosclerosis, 1.9 [CI, 1.1 to 3.6]; odds ratio for myocardial infarction, 3.1 [CI, 1.5 to 6.3]). No association was found between thyroid autoimmunity itself and cardiovascular disease. The population attributable risk percentage for subclinical hypothyroidism associated with myocardial infarction was within the range of that for known major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. CONCLUSION: Subclinical hypothyroidism is a strong indicator of risk for atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction in elderly women.

Ann Intern Med. 2000 Feb 15;132(4):270-8

Epidemiology and prevention of clinical and subclinical hypothyroidism.
Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of hypothyroidism worldwide. In persons living in iodine-replete areas, causes are congenital, spontaneous because of chronic autoimmune disease (atrophic autoimmune thyroiditis or goitrous autoimmune thyroiditis [Hashimoto's thyroiditis]), or iatrogenic because of goitrogens, drugs, or destructive treatment for thyrotoxicosis. Screening for congenital hypothyroidism exists and its use prevents mental retardation. The prevalence of spontaneous hypothyroidism is between 1% and 2% and is more common in older women and 10 times more common in women than in men. A significant proportion of subjects have asymptomatic chronic autoimmune thyroiditis and 8% of women (10% of women over 55 years of age) and 3% of men have subclinical hypothyroidism. Approximately one third of patients with newly diagnosed overt hypothyroidism have received destructive therapy for hyperthyroidism and indefinite surveillance is required. There is not much that can be done to prevent the occurrence of spontaneous autoimmune hypothyroidism, but if identified early, something can be done to prevent progression to overt disease. Controversy exists as to whether healthy adults would benefit from screening for autoimmune thyroid disease because a significant proportion of subjects tested will have evidence of mild thyroid failure. Case finding in women at menopause or visiting a primary care physician with nonspecific symptoms appears justified.

Thyroid. 2002 Oct;12(10):839-47

Effect of subclinical hypothyroidism and obesity on whole-body and regional bone mineral content.
OBJECTIVE: The present investigation was aimed to evaluate the effect of subclinical hypothyroidism and obesity on bone mineral content (BMC) in different body segments. METHODS: Thirty-two premenopausal women (age: 37 +/- 9.9 years), with a wide range in body mass index (BMI), were studied. Subclinical hypothyroidism was defined by a basal TSH > or = 4 microU/l and/or a TRH-stimulated peak > or = 30 microU/l. For each subject, weight, height, BMI (weight/height(2)) and the waist/hip ratio were measured. Total BMC, total bone mineral density (BMD), leg BMC, leg BMD, trunk BMC, trunk BMD, arm BMC and arm BMD were determined using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Thyroid function (basal and TRH-stimulated TSH, free T(3) and free T(4)) were determined from fasting blood samples for all subjects. RESULTS: Anova was conducted within all the groups to observe the effect of thyroid status and/or obesity on BMC and BMD. There was no statistical difference for age. Total BMC was affected by obesity (p < 0.05) but not by thyroid status, BMD of the legs was significantly influenced both by thyroid function and obesity (p < 0.01); total BMD was affected by hypothyroid status (p < 0.05). A direct relationship between leg BMD and TSH was demonstrated. CONCLUSION: Subclinical thyroid hypofunction and obesity seem to affect BMD differently in the body segments. An influence of gravitational force seems necessary in order to make evident the effect of subclinical hypothyroidism on bone. A condition of subclinical hypothyroidism should be considered when evaluating subjects for osteoporosis, since a BMD measured at the femoral neck may induce underestimation of initial osteoporosis.

Horm Res. 2002;57(3-4):79-84

The Colorado thyroid disease prevalence study.
CONTEXT: The prevalence of abnormal thyroid function in the United States and the significance of thyroid dysfunction remain controversial. Systemic effects of abnormal thyroid function have not been fully delineated, particularly in cases of mild thyroid failure. Also, the relationship between traditional hypothyroid symptoms and biochemical thyroid function is unclear. OBJECTIVE: To determine the prevalence of abnormal thyroid function and the relationship between (1) abnormal thyroid function and lipid levels and (2) abnormal thyroid function and symptoms using modern and sensitive thyroid tests. DESIGN: Cross-sectional study. PARTICIPANTS: Participants in a statewide health fair in Colorado , 1995 (N = 25 862). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Serum thyrotropin (thyroid-stimulating hormone [TSH]) and total thyroxine (T4) concentrations, serum lipid levels, and responses to a hypothyroid symptoms questionnaire. RESULTS: The prevalence of elevated TSH levels (normal range, 0.3-5.1 mIU/L) in this population was 9.5%, and the prevalence of decreased TSH levels was 2.2%. Forty percent of patients taking thyroid medications had abnormal TSH levels. Lipid levels increased in a graded fashion as thyroid function declined. Also, the mean total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels of subjects with TSH values between 5.1 and 10 mIU/L were significantly greater than the corresponding mean lipid levels in euthyroid subjects. Symptoms were reported more often in hypothyroid vs euthyroid individuals, but individual symptom sensitivities were low. CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of abnormal biochemical thyroid function reported here is substantial and confirms previous reports in smaller populations. Among patients taking thyroid medication, only 60% were within the normal range of TSH. Modest elevations of TSH corresponded to changes in lipid levels that may affect cardiovascular health. Individual symptoms were not very sensitive, but patients who report multiple thyroid symptoms warrant serum thyroid testing. These results confirm that thyroid dysfunction is common, may often go undetected, and may be associated with adverse health outcomes that can be avoided by serum TSH measurement.

Arch Intern Med. 2000 Feb 28;160(4):526-34

TSH-controlled L-thyroxine therapy reduces cholesterol levels and clinical symptoms in subclinical hypothyroidism: a double blind, placebo-controlled trial ( Basel Thyroid Study).
This study evaluated the effect of physiological, TSH-guided, L-thyroxine treatment on serum lipids and clinical symptoms in patients with subclinical hypothyroidism. Sixty-six women with proven subclinical hypothyroidism (TSH, 11.7 +/- 0.8 mIU/liter) were randomly assigned to receive L-thyroxine or placebo for 48 wk. Individual L-thyroxine replacement (mean dose, 85.5 +/- 4.3 microg/d) was performed based on blinded TSH monitoring, resulting in euthyroid TSH levels (3.1 +/- 0.3 mIU/liter). Lipid concentrations and clinical scores were measured before and after treatment. Sixty-three of 66 patients completed the study. In the L-thyroxine group (n = 31) total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol were significantly reduced [-0.24 mmol/liter, 3.8% (P = 0.015) and -0.33 mmol/liter, 8.2% (P = 0.004), respectively]. Low density lipoprotein cholesterol decrease was more pronounced in patients with TSH levels greater than 12 mIU/liter or elevated low density lipoprotein cholesterol levels at baseline. A significant decrease in apolipoprotein B-100 concentrations was observed (P = 0.037), whereas high density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, apolipoprotein AI, and lipoprotein(a) levels remained unchanged. Two clinical scores assessing symptoms and signs of hypothyroidism (Billewicz and Zulewski scores) improved significantly (P = 0.02). This is the first double blind study to show that physiological L-thyroxine replacement in patients with subclinical hypothyroidism has a beneficial effect on low density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and clinical symptoms of hypothyroidism. An important risk reduction of cardiovascular mortality of 9-31% can be estimated from the observed improvement in low density lipoprotein cholesterol.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Oct;86(10):4860-6

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