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Year : 2004  |  Volume : 50  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 11

Serum TSH testing is necessary for primary hypothyroidism case finding

Endocrinology Practice, University of Colorado Hospital, 1635 N Ursula Street, Rm OP-6620, Aurora, Colorado 80010, USA

Correspondence Address:
M T McDermott
Endocrinology Practice, University of Colorado Hospital, 1635 N Ursula Street, Rm OP-6620, Aurora, Colorado 80010
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How to cite this article:
McDermott M T. Serum TSH testing is necessary for primary hypothyroidism case finding. J Postgrad Med 2004;50:11

How to cite this URL:
McDermott M T. Serum TSH testing is necessary for primary hypothyroidism case finding. J Postgrad Med [serial online] 2004 [cited 2023 Jun 5];50:11. Available from:

Hypothyroidism is the most common functional disorder of the thyroid gland. Pathology of the thyroid gland (primary hypothyroidism) accounts for over 99.5% of cases of thyroid gland failure and < 0.5% result from disorders of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus (central hypothyroidism). Overt primary hypothyroidism refers to cases in which the serum thyrotropin (TSH) concentration is elevated and the serum free thyroxine (T4) level is below the reference range, while subclinical hypothyroidism is defined as an elevated serum TSH value associated with a serum free T4 that is still within the reference range.

The incidence of overt hypothyroidism has been estimated to be 4.1 cases per 1000 women per year and 0.6 cases per 1000 men per year.[1] The prevalence has been reported to be approximately 1-2% in women and 0.1% in men in large population studies.[2],[3],[4] The prevalence of subclinical hypothyroidism is far higher, having been reported to be about 4-10% in multiple populations[4],[5],[6] and as high as 18% in the elderly.[4],[5],[6],[7],[8]

Symptoms and signs are often present in patients with overt hypothyroidism,[9] although they tend to be nonspecific findings that can also be observed in other conditions. Clinical manifestations of subclinical hypothyroidism occur less frequently, are often subtle and are similarly nonspecific.

The very interesting study published in this issue by Indra, et al,[10] prospectively evaluated the diagnostic accuracy of clinical features traditionally considered to be characteristic of hypothyroidism. They found that no single finding or combination of findings accurately predicted the presence of hypothyroidism and concluded that biochemical testing must be relied upon to make this diagnosis.

The identification of patients with hypothyroidism is an important individual and public health issue. Symptoms, nonspecific as they may be, usually improve when hypothyroid patients are given thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Furthermore, overt and even subclinical hypothyroidism have been reported to be associated with disordered myocardial function[11],[12] and with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.[13],[14] Because primary thyroid gland disease is present in the overwhelming majority of individuals with hypothyroidism, measurement of the serum TSH level is the diagnostic test of choice for identifying this condition.

Population screening for hypothyroidism is currently a contentious issue. The American Thyroid Association steadfastly recommends screening asymptomatic individuals during their routine physical examination starting at age 35 years and every 5 years thereafter.[15] At the other end of the spectrum, recent publications from an expert consensus panel[16] and from the American College of Physicians[17] have reported that there is insufficient evidence to recommend routine screening for this disease in asymptomatic people. Nonetheless, they did advise aggressive case finding (TSH testing) in patients with clinical signs or symptoms that could be attributable to thyroid disease and in high risk populations. Screening is a broad population policy issue. Case finding, in contrast, is the more common situation in which a provider caring for a patient believes that testing for thyroid disease is indicated for any reason. Where individual patients are concerned, the experience of the provider must always supercede public policy recommendations by detached panels and organizations. Measurement of the serum TSH concentration is a simple and accurate method of confirming the presence of hypothyroidism and, as pointed out by Indra, et al, is the only accurate means to diagnose this condition.

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1.Vanderpump MP, Tunbridge WM, French JM, Appleton D, Bates D, Clark F, et al. The incidence of thyroid disorders in the community: a twenty-year follow-up of the Whickham Survey. Clin Endocrinol 1995;43:55-68.  Back to cited text no. 1  [PUBMED]  
2.Helfand M, Redfern CC. Clinical Guideline Part 2: Screening for thyroid disease: An update. Ann Intern Med 1998;129:144-58.  Back to cited text no. 2  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
3.Vanderpump MP, Tunbridge WM. The epidemiology of thyroid disease. In: Braverman LE, Utiger RD, eds. The Thyroid, 9th edn, Philadelphia: Lippencott-Raven; 1996. p. 474-82.  Back to cited text no. 3    
4.Tunbridge WMG, Evered DC, Hall R, Appleton D, Brewis M, Clark F, et al. The spectrum of thyroid disease in a community: The Whickham survey. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 1977;7:481-93.  Back to cited text no. 4    
5.Canaris GJ, Manowitz NR, Mayor G, Ridgway EC. The Colorado thyroid disease prevalence study. Arch Intern Med 2000;160:526-34.  Back to cited text no. 5  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
6.Hollowell JG, Staehling NW, Flanders WD, Hannon WH, Gunter EW, Spencer CA, Braverman LE. Serum TSH, T4, and thyroid antibodies in the United States population (1988 to 1994): National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2002;87:489-99.  Back to cited text no. 6  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
7.Bagchi N, Brown TR, Parish RF. Thyroid dysfunction in adults over age 55 years. A study in an urban U.S. community. Arch Intern Med 1990;150:785-7.  Back to cited text no. 7  [PUBMED]  
8.Sawin CT, Chopra D, Azizi F, Mannix JE, Bacharach P. The aging thyroid. Increased prevalence of elevated serum thyrotropin levels in the elderly. JAMA 1979;242:247-50.  Back to cited text no. 8  [PUBMED]  
9.McDermott MT, Ridgway EC. The diagnosis and treatment of hypothyroidism. In: Cooper DS, ed. Practical management of thyroid disorders. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc; 2001. p. 135-86.  Back to cited text no. 9    
10.Indra R, Patil SS, Joshi R, Pai M, Kalantri SP. Accuracy of physical examination in the diagnosis of hypothyroidism: a cross-sectional, double-blind study. J Postgrad Med 2004;50:7-11.  Back to cited text no. 10  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
11.Biondi B, Fazio S, Palmieri EA, Carella C, Panza N, Cittadini A, et al. Left ventricular diastolic dysfunction in patients with subclinical hypothyroidism. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1999;84:2064-7.  Back to cited text no. 11  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
12.Monzani F, Di Bello V, Caraccio N, Bertini A, Giorgi D, Giusti C, et al. Effect of levothyroxine on cardiac function and structure in subclinical hypothyroidism:a double blind, placebo-controlled study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2001;86:1110-5.  Back to cited text no. 12  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
13.Kahaly GJ. Cardiovascular and atherogenic aspects of subclinical hypothyroidism. Thyroid 2000;10:665-79.  Back to cited text no. 13  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
14.Hak AE, Pols HA, Visser TJ, Drexhage HA, Hofman A, Witteman JC. Subclinical hypothyroidism is an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction in elderly women: The Rotterdam study. Ann Intern Med 2000;132:270-8.  Back to cited text no. 14  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
15.Ladenson PW, Singer PA, Ain KB, Bagchi N, Bigos ST, Levy EG, et al. American Thyroid Association guidelines for detection of thyroid dysfunction. Arch Inter Med 2000;160:1573-5.  Back to cited text no. 15  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
16.Surks MI, Ortiz E, Daniels GH, Sawin CT, Col NF, Cobin RH, et al. Subclinical thyroid disease. Scientific review and guidelines for diagnosis and management. JAMA 2004;291:228-38.  Back to cited text no. 16  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
17.US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for thyroid disease: Recommendation Statement. Ann Intern Med 2004;140:125-7.  Back to cited text no. 17    

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Online since 12th February '04
2004 - Journal of Postgraduate Medicine
Official Publication of the Staff Society of the Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital, Mumbai, India
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