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Br J Gen Pract. 1993 Mar; 43(368): 107–109.
PMCID: PMC1372330

Thyroxine prescription in the community: serum thyroid stimulating hormone level assays as an indicator of undertreatment or overtreatment.


Examination of thyroxine usage in a study in the United States of America revealed that many patients were prescribed thyroxine for non-thyroid indications, such as obesity and fatigue. Many of those receiving thyroxine had high or low serum thyroid stimulating hormone levels, indicating prescription of incorrect doses or lack of patient compliance with therapy. Long term thyroxine therapy may have effects upon the risk of osteoporosis. The aims of this study were to investigate indications for thyroxine prescription in the United Kingdom and to examine the frequency of abnormal serum thyroid stimulating hormone concentrations in those prescribed thyroxine for hypothyroidism. This was in order to determine the relevance of measurement of thyroid stimulating hormone level in monitoring thyroxine therapy. Subjects receiving thyroxine were identified from the computerized prescribing records of four general practices in the West Midlands. Of 18,944 patients registered, 146 (0.8%) were being prescribed thyroxine; 134 of these had primary hypothyroidism and the remainder had other thyroid or pituitary diseases prior to treatment. Of the 97 patients with primary hypothyroidism who agreed to have their thyroid stimulating hormone level measured, abnormal serum levels were found in 48%, high levels in 27% and low levels in 21%. There was a significant relationship between prescribed thyroxine dose and median serum thyroid stimulating hormone level: high hormone levels were found in 47% of those prescribed less than 100 micrograms thyroxine per day, while low levels were found in 24% of those prescribed 100 micrograms or more. Thus, thyroxine prescription was common in the four practices sampled, although indications for its use were appropriate.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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