Background: Overt hypothyroidism has been found to be associated with cardiovascular disease. Whether subclinical hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmunity are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease is controversial.
Objective: To investigate whether subclinical hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmunity are associated with aortic atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction in postmenopausal women.
Design: Population-based cross-sectional study.
Setting: A district of Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Participants: Random sample of 1149 women (mean age +/- SD, 69.0 +/- 7.5 years) participating in the Rotterdam Study.
Measurements: Data on thyroid status, aortic atherosclerosis, and history of myocardial infarction were obtained at baseline. Subclinical hypothyroidism was defined as an elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone level (>4.0 mU/L) and a normal serum free thyroxine level (11 to 25 pmol/L [0.9 to 1.9 ng/dL]). In tests for antibodies to thyroid peroxidase, a serum level greater than 10 IU/mL was considered a positive result.
Results: Subclinical hypothyroidism was present in 10.8% of participants and was associated with a greater age-adjusted prevalence of aortic atherosclerosis (odds ratio, 1.7 [95% CI, 1.1 to 2.6]) and myocardial infarction (odds ratio, 2.3 [CI, 1.3 to 4.0]). Additional adjustment for body mass index, total and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level, blood pressure, and smoking status, as well as exclusion of women who took beta-blockers, did not affect these estimates. Associations were slightly stronger in women who had subclinical hypothyroidism and antibodies to thyroid peroxidase (odds ratio for aortic atherosclerosis, 1.9 [CI, 1.1 to 3.6]; odds ratio for myocardial infarction, 3.1 [CI, 1.5 to 6.3]). No association was found between thyroid autoimmunity itself and cardiovascular disease. The population attributable risk percentage for subclinical hypothyroidism associated with myocardial infarction was within the range of that for known major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Conclusion: Subclinical hypothyroidism is a strong indicator of risk for atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction in elderly women.