What to do? Physicians often turn to medication first, then surgery or treatment with radioactive iodine, Burman said. But medication raises questions, he said: "Do you keep them on medication indefinitely when they feel fine and the medications have side effects?"
Study co-author Dr. Nicolas Rodondi, head of ambulatory care at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, said treatment should be considered if patients are in certain risk groups and only if their thyroid levels remain abnormal after they're rechecked in three to six months.
The next step in research is to confirm the analysis findings and explore how treatment may help patients lower their risks of problems, he said.
The study appears online April 23 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. A second study, also published in the journal, examined whether the drug levothyroxine sodium -- a man-made form of the thyroid hormone -- would help reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems in patients with subclinical hypothyroidism.
The study of about 4,800 patients, led by researchers at Newcastle University in England, found that the drug (brand names include Synthroid), appeared to reduce the risk of heart problems in relatively younger patients (aged 40 to 70) but not in older patients (over 70).
In younger patients, about 4 percent of those treated with the drug had heart disease, compared with nearly 7 percent of those who weren't treated with it. After adjusting their statistics so they wouldn't be skewed by various factors, the researchers found that those who took the drug had a 39 percent lower risk of heart disease.
The drug can, however, cause a variety of
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