Researchers pinpoint what level signals danger
MONDAY, Sept. 22 (HealthDay News) -- A new study can help doctors decide when to treat people who have an underactive thyroid gland that does not cause symptoms strong enough to arouse worry, researchers report.
As many as 27 million Americans have some type of thyroid disease, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists; about half of these people are undiagnosed.
"At this point, how to manage older people who have subclinical thyroid dysfunction isn't clear," said Dr. Anne R. Cappola, an assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the group reporting the finding in the Sept. 30 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Cappola and her colleagues looked at one possible result of abnormal thyroid activity, the development of heart failure. They followed more than 3,000 people for an average of 12 years, monitoring thyroid activity by measuring blood levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), looking for a relationship between thyroid activity and heart failure, the progressive loss of the ability of the heart to pump blood.
TSH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that stimulates thyroid activity. A high TSH reading means that the pituitary is working hard to get the thyroid into action.
A clear indicator of danger emerged from the study, Cappola said: a TSH level of 10 mU/liter. A normal TSH level is 4.5 mU/l or lower.
Study participants with a TSH reading of 10 or higher had about twice the incidence of heart failure as those with lower readings. "Between 4.5 and 10, there was no effect," Cappola said.
The term "subclinical" can mean simply that thyroid problems are being ignored, said Dr. Anne B. Newman, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and another member of the research team.
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