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J Endocrinol Invest. 1999 Oct;22(9):693-7.

Prevalence of subclinical hypothyroidism in a population living in the Milan metropolitan area.

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  • 1Direzione Medica Italia, Milano, Italy.


Subclinical hypothyroidism is a condition characterized by increased levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) associated with normal levels of free triiodothyronine (FT3) and free thyroxine (FT4). The exact prevalence of this condition in Italy is not known. The aim of this study was to assess the presence of subclinical hypothyroidism in 1001 subjects living in the Milan area (age 17-89) and apparently free from thyroid pathology. This sample which had applied to a large laboratory centre (Centro Diagnostico Italiano, Milano) for a routine check-up was seen from April to July 1996. A serum TSH assay was performed using a highly sensitive immunoenzymatic method, while an FT3 and FT4 assay was performed by means of a radioimmunologic method using commercial kits. The prevalence of subclinical hypothyroidism in the total population proved to be 4.7% (95% CI-Confidence Interval: 3.4-6.0). Sex stratification showed a prevalence of 6.1% in females and 3.4% in males. Prevalence in patients up to 65 was 4.2%. This value increased up to 8.0% in subjects over 65. By combining these variables, in females >65 prevalence increased to 11.3%. Overall, symptoms typical of overt hypothyroidism were found in 58.3% of patients suffering from subclinical hypothyroidism and in 39.9% of healthy subjects (p<0.02). The results of this study show that there is a significant presence (about 5%) of subclinical hypothyroidism in this population and that its frequency is more than doubled in women over 65. Early treatment might reduce the progression to overt hypothyroidism. The benefits of such a procedure were recently suggested by a decision making modelling approach applied to the Italian environment.

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