Thyroid hormones treatment for subclinical hypothyroidism: a clinical practice guideline

BMJ. 2019 May 14:365:l2006. doi: 10.1136/bmj.l2006.


Clinical question: What are the benefits and harms of thyroid hormones for adults with subclinical hypothyroidism (SCH)? This guideline was triggered by a recent systematic review of randomised controlled trials, which could alter practice.

Current practice: Current guidelines tend to recommend thyroid hormones for adults with thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels >10 mIU/L and for people with lower TSH values who are young, symptomatic, or have specific indications for prescribing.

Recommendation: The guideline panel issues a strong recommendation against thyroid hormones in adults with SCH (elevated TSH levels and normal free T4 (thyroxine) levels). It does not apply to women who are trying to become pregnant or patients with TSH >20 mIU/L. It may not apply to patients with severe symptoms or young adults (such as those ≤30 years old).

How this guideline was created: A guideline panel including patients, clinicians, and methodologists produced this recommendation in adherence with standards for trustworthy guidelines using the GRADE approach.

The evidence: The systematic review included 21 trials with 2192 participants. For adults with SCH, thyroid hormones consistently demonstrate no clinically relevant benefits for quality of life or thyroid related symptoms, including depressive symptoms, fatigue, and body mass index (moderate to high quality evidence). Thyroid hormones may have little or no effect on cardiovascular events or mortality (low quality evidence), but harms were measured in only one trial with few events at two years' follow-up.

Understanding the recommendation: The panel concluded that almost all adults with SCH would not benefit from treatment with thyroid hormones. Other factors in the strong recommendation include the burden of lifelong management and uncertainty on potential harms. Instead, clinicians should monitor the progression or resolution of the thyroid dysfunction in these adults. Recommendations are made actionable for clinicians and their patients through visual overviews. These provide the relative and absolute benefits and harms of thyroid hormones in multilayered evidence summaries and decision aids available in MAGIC ( to support shared decisions and adaptation of this guideline.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Decision Making
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Depression / etiology
  • Fatigue / drug therapy
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothyroidism / blood
  • Hypothyroidism / complications
  • Hypothyroidism / diagnosis
  • Hypothyroidism / drug therapy*
  • Quality of Life
  • Thyroid Hormones / adverse effects
  • Thyroid Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Thyrotropin / blood
  • Thyroxine / blood
  • Uncertainty


  • Thyroid Hormones
  • Thyrotropin
  • Thyroxine