disorders of the thyroid axis
- thyroid enlargement may be benign, resulting in nodules or goitre, or malignant in people with thyroid cancer
- conditions causing thyroid dysfunction can be broadly divided into those that result in thyroid gland underactivity (hypothyroidism) or overactivity (thyrotoxicosis)
- thyroid enlargement is common
- about 15% of the UK population have clinically detectable goitres or thyroid nodules, and the lifetime risk of developing a thyroid nodule is around 5 to 10%
- in many cases, thyroid glands harbouring malignancy are clinically indistinguishable from those that are not. Most people with a non-malignant enlarged thyroid gland and normal thyroid function need no treatment.
Hypothyroidism is a condition of thyroid hormone deficiency and is usually caused by autoimmune Hashimoto's thyroiditis
- primary hypothyroidism refers to conditions arising from the thyroid gland rather than the pituitary gland (secondary hypothyroidism)
- hypothyroidism is found in about 2% of the UK population and in more than 5% of those over 60
- women are 5 to 10 times more likely to be affected than men
- long-term consequences of hypothyroidism include cardiovascular disease and an increase in cardiovascular risk factors, including hypercholesterolaemia.
Thyrotoxicosis is a disorder of excess circulating thyroid hormones caused by increased production and secretion (hyperthyroidism) or the release of (thyroiditis) stored thyroid hormones
- in the UK, autoimmune hyperthyroidism (Graves' disease) is the most common form, accounting for 60 to 80% of cases
- thyrotoxicosis is a common endocrine disorder with a prevalence of around 2% in UK women and 0.2% in men
- Graves' disease is caused by a genetic predisposition to developing stimulating thyroid autoantibodies and occurs mostly in women aged 30 to 60 years
- thyrotoxicosis affects 1 to 2 children per 10,000
- children may be severely affected, with poor educational performance often being an early feature
- long-term consequences of hyperthyroidism include increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality and bone-related complications, including osteoporosis.
Subclinical thyroid dysfunction is a biochemical diagnosis where serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels are outside the reference range, and circulating thyroid hormone levels (thyroxine [T4] and tri-iodothyronine [T3]) are within the reference range
- often detected incidentally, although some people may have symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism
- prevalence of subclinical thyrotoxicosis is 0.5 to 10% and that of subclinical hypothyroidism is 4 to 20%; these wide ranges reflect differences in the studied populations
- data on the long-term consequences of subclinical thyroid dysfunction largely
come from people over 65
- indicate increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, an increased risk of osteoporosis and potential links to dementia.
Last edited 12/2019 and last reviewed 08/2021