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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998 Mar;83(3):765-9.

Iodine intake and the pattern of thyroid disorders: a comparative epidemiological study of thyroid abnormalities in the elderly in Iceland and in Jutland, Denmark.

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  • 1Department of Endocrinology and Internal Medicine, Aalborg Hospital, Denmark.


Thyroid abnormalities are common in all populations, but it is difficult to compare results of epidemiological studies, because different methods have been used for evaluation. We studied the importance of the population iodine intake level for the prevalence rate of various thyroid abnormalities in elderly subjects. Random samples of elderly subjects (68 yr) were selected from the central person registers in Jutland, Denmark, with low (n = 423) and, in Iceland, with longstanding relatively high (n = 100) iodine intake. Females from Jutland had a high prevalence of goiter or previous goiter surgery (12.2%), compared with males from Jutland (3.2%) and females (1.9%) and males (2.2%) from Iceland. Abnormal thyroid function was very common in both areas, with serum TSH outside the reference range in 13.5% of subjects from Jutland and 19% of those from Iceland. In Jutland, it was mainly thyroid hyperfunction (9.7% had low, 3.8% had high serum TSH), whereas in Iceland, it was impaired thyroid function (1% had low, 18% had high serum TSH). All subjects with serum TSH more than 10 mU/L had autoantibodies in serum, but antibodies were, in general, more common in Jutland than in Iceland. Thus, thyroid abnormalities in populations with low iodine intake and those with high iodine intake develop in opposite directions: goiter and thyroid hyperfunction when iodine intake is relatively low, and impaired thyroid function when iodine intake is relatively high. Probably, mild iodine deficiency partly protects against autoimmune thyroid disease. Thyroid autoantibodies may be markers of an autoimmune process in the thyroid or secondary to the development of goiter.

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