Natural history of thyroid abnormalities: prevalence, incidence, and regression of thyroid diseases in adolescents and young adults

Am J Med. 1991 Oct;91(4):363-70. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(91)90153-o.


Purpose: This study reports the prevalence, incidence, and regression of thyroid abnormalities in a population observed from adolescence to adulthood.

Patients and methods: Examinations for thyroid abnormalities were performed in 4,819 school-age children, ages 11 to 18, in 1965 to 1968; two thirds of this original cohort (3,121) were re-examined 20 years later (1985 to 1986). Each subject with a thyroid abnormality detected by physical examination was studied by means of a series of re-examinations, and tests of thyroid function, imaging, and biopsy to determine the exact nature of the thyroid abnormality.

Results: In the initial examinations (1965 to 1968), 185 thyroid abnormalities were found (3.7%). Diffuse hypertrophy with normal function (adolescent goiter) was the most common abnormality (19.3/1,000); 12.7/1,000 had chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, and 4.6/1,000 had thyroid nodules, including two papillary carcinomas. Hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism was found in 1.9/1,000. In the follow-up examinations in 1985 to 1986, 298 subjects had thyroid abnormalities (10.5%), of whom 81 (28.7/1,000) had simple goiters, 145 (51.3/1,000) had chronic thyroiditis, 45 (15.9/1,000) had hypothyroidism, 11 (3.9/1,000) had hyperthyroidism, and 66 (23.2/1,000) had nodules, which included 10 carcinomas. Of the 92 subjects with simple or adolescent goiter in 1965 to 1968, 60% were normal by 1985 to 1986, 20% were unchanged, and a few had developed thyroiditis (10%) or colloid goiters (3.0%). Of 61 subjects with thyroiditis, 27% had become normal, 33% remained unchanged, and 33% had become hypothyroid. Of the 22 subjects with thyroid nodules, two had complete disappearance of the nodules, and three had nodules considered to be variants of normal. The others exhibited a variety of nodular pathologic conditions.

Conclusions: The natural history of thyroid disorders, including simple goiter, chronic thyroiditis, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, and nodular diseases of the thyroid, indicates they are dynamic and changeable in form, function, appearance, and disappearance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arizona / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Clinical Protocols
  • Cohort Studies
  • Decision Trees
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Nevada / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Radioactive Fallout
  • Remission, Spontaneous
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Thyroid Diseases / diagnosis
  • Thyroid Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Thyroid Diseases / physiopathology
  • Utah / epidemiology


  • Radioactive Fallout