The prevalence of thyroid dysfunction in a population with borderline iodine deficiency


Nils Knudsen Medical Clinic I, Bispebjerg Hospital, DK-2400 Copenhagen NV, Denmark. Fax: +45 3531 3966; E-mail:



We lack information on the influence of borderline iodine deficiency on the occurrence of thyroid dysfunction. Iodine deficiency has been reported to facilitate the development of toxic nodular goitre, whereas a high iodine intake may increase the prevalence of autoimmune hypothyroidism.


In a cross-sectional study of a random sample of the general population in our region with borderline iodine defficiency 2656 (65%) of 4073 men and women aged 41 to 71 years participated. Records were made of previous thyroidal illness. Blood samples were drawn for thyroid parameters and TPO Ab values. Iodine and creatinine was assessed in casual urine samples.


Previous or present hyperthyroidism was reported by 1.4% of the participants whereas 0.6% had unknown biochemical hyperthyroidism. All cases of undiagnosed hyperthyroidism were among women. Previously diagnosed and treated hypothyroidism was reported by 1.0% and undiagnosed hypothyroidism was found in 0.4%. Subclinical hyperthyroidism was found in 1.3% and subclinical hypothyroidism in 0.7%. TPO Ab titres >200 kU/l were found in 16.9% of the women and 6.6% of the men, and 83% of participants with TSH >5 mU/l had TPO Ab titres >200 kU/l. Participants with TPO Ab titres between 100 and 200 kU/l had no increased frequency of thyroid dysfunction. The median iodine excretion rate was estimated as 103 μg/day. Serum TSH values were higher in women than in men and showed higher dispersion in women as well as in old age. Serum free T3 was found to be higher in women than in men and increased with age. Serum free T4 showed no sex difference but values increased with increasing age.


In our region with borderline iodine deficiency more than 5% of the general population has clinical or subclinical thyroid dysfunction. We found a relatively high prevalence of hyperthyroidism, especially previously undiagnosed disease, but a low prevalence of hypothyroidism as would be expected in an area of iodine deficiency. Hypothyroidism was related to TPO Ab titres of >200 kU/l. Thyroid hormone levels varied with age and sex.