The natural history of subclinical hypothyroidism in the elderly: the cardiovascular health study

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Jun;97(6):1962-9. doi: 10.1210/jc.2011-3047. Epub 2012 Mar 21.


Context: Studies of long-term outcomes of subclinical hypothyroidism have assessed only baseline thyroid function, despite natural transitions to euthyroidism and overt hypothyroidism over time.

Objective: We provide estimates of persistence, resolution, and progression of subclinical hypothyroidism over 4 yr, stratified by baseline TSH, anti-thyroid peroxidase antibody (TPOAb) status, age, and sex.

Design, setting, and participants: Participants were 3996 U.S. individuals at least 65 yr old enrolled in the Cardiovascular Health Study. Subclinical hypothyroidism was detected at baseline in 459 individuals not taking thyroid medication.

Main outcome measure: Thyroid function was evaluated at 2 and 4 yr and initiation of thyroid medication annually. Results were stratified by baseline TSH, TPOAb status, age, and sex.

Results: Persistence of subclinical hypothyroidism was 56% at 2 and 4 yr. At 2 yr, resolution was more common with a TSH of 4.5-6.9 mU/liter (46 vs. 10% with TSH 7-9.9 mU/liter and 7% with TSH ≥10 mU/liter; P < 0.001) and with TPOAb negativity (48 vs. 15% for positive; P < 0.001). Higher TSH and TPOAb positivity were independently associated with lower likelihood of reversion to euthyroidism (P < 0.05). TSH of 10 mU/liter or higher was independently associated with progression to overt hypothyroidism (P < 0.05). Transitions between euthyroidism and subclinical hypothyroidism were common between 2 and 4 yr. Age and sex did not affect transitions.

Conclusions: Subclinical hypothyroidism persists for 4 yr in just over half of older individuals, with high rates of reversion to euthyroidism in individuals with lower TSH concentrations and TPOAb negativity. Future studies should examine the impact of transitions in thyroid status on clinical outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autoantibodies / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothyroidism / drug therapy*
  • Hypothyroidism / epidemiology*
  • Iodide Peroxidase / immunology
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Sex Distribution
  • Thyrotropin / blood


  • Autoantibodies
  • Thyrotropin
  • Iodide Peroxidase