Context: The negative impact of subclinical hypothyroidism (sHT) on cardiovascular risk, widely recognized in young adults (aged <55-60 y), is still debated in the elderly (>65 y), especially in the oldest olds (>80 y).
Evidence acquisition: We searched Medline for reports published with the following search terms: "hypothyroidism," "subclinical hypothyroidism," "ageing," "elderly," "L-thyroxin," "thyroid," "guidelines," "treatment," "quality of life," "cardiovascular risk," "heart failure," "coronary heart disease" (CHD), "atherosclerosis," and "endothelial dysfunction." We limited our search to reports in English published after 1980, although we incorporated some reports published before 1980. We supplemented the search with records from personal files, textbooks, and relevant articles. Analyzed parameters included the epidemiology of thyroid failure, the effect of thyroid hormone on the aging process, cardiovascular function, and CHD risk factors. We also included the potential benefits of L-T4 therapy on the quality of life, cardiovascular events, and survival.
Evidence synthesis: TSH levels increase with age, even in older people without thyroid disease. Most longitudinal studies show an increased risk for CHD events and mortality in sHT participants. This increase is less evident in the elderly, mainly in cases of serum TSH values above 10 mIU/L. Lower mortality rate in a cohort of the oldest olds (>85 y) has been reported.
Conclusions: sHT in older people should be not regarded as a unique condition, and moderately old patients (aged <70-75 y) could be considered clinically similar to the adult population, albeit with a higher optimal TSH target value. Conversely, the oldest old subjects should be carefully followed with a wait-and-see strategy, generally avoiding hormonal treatment. The decision to treat elderly people is still an unresolved clinical challenge--first, due to a lack of appropriately powered randomized controlled trials of L-T4 in sHT patients, examining cardiovascular hard endpoints in various classes of age; and second, because of the negative effects of possible overtreatment.