OBJECTIVE The present study was designed to investigate the prevalence of thyroid dysfunction and Its relation to thyroid autoantibodies and urine iodide concentration in apparently healthy people residing in Sapporo, a city of northern Japan, where the iodine intake is high.
DESIGN AND SUBJECTS Serum TSH and thyroid autoantibodies, and urine iodide were measured in 4110 people (2931 men and 1179 women) (age 456 ± 103 years (mean ± SD)) who were recruited at the hospital for medical examinations.
RESULTS The thyroid autoantibodies were positive in 6.4% of males and 13.8% of females with an age-related increase. Of the people with positive antibodies, 87.2% had normal TSH values (0.15–5.0 mU/l) as measured by a sensitive assay. The prevalence of unsuspected hyperthyroidism as defined by suppressed TSH values was 0.61%, of which 64% was diagnosed as Graves' disease based on positive thyrotrophin receptor antibody results. The prevalence of unsuspected hypothyroidism, as evidenced by supranormal TSH, was 0.68% for males and 3.13% for females with an age-related increase. Of those with hypothyroidism, 45.5% were autoantibody positive. The overall prevalence of Hashimoto's thyroiditis was 13.11% for females and 6.15% for males. The urine iodide levels of hypothyroidism with a positive autoantibody of 38.5 (17.7–83.9)μmol/l and a negative autoantibody of 34.9 (17.9–67.9) μmol/l were both significantly higher than that of normal subjects (26.9 (14.6–49.6) μmol/l) (P <0.01). When iodine intake was restricted for 6–8 weeks for hypothyroid subjects, the elevated TSH and thyroglobulin and low free T4 levels were reversed in the autoantibody negative but not in the positive group.
CONCLUSIONS This study provides further information on the prevalence of thyroid dysfunction and autoimmune thyroid diseases in an iodine sufficient area. In addition, it suggests that more than half of the patients with unsuspected hypothyroidism were negative for autoantibodies and that the excessive iodine intake may be involved in causing latent hypothyroidism.