Endogenous and Exogenous Thyrotoxicosis and Risk of Incident Cognitive Disorders in Older Adults

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Importance: Thyroid hormone is among the most common prescriptions in the US and up to 20% may be overtreated. Endogenous hyperthyroidism may be a risk factor for dementia, but data are limited for iatrogenic thyrotoxicosis. Objective: To determine whether thyrotoxicosis, both endogenous and exogenous, is associated with increased risk of cognitive disorders. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study performed a longitudinal time-varying analysis of electronic health records for patients receiving primary care in the Johns Hopkins Community Physicians Network between January 1, 2014, and May 6, 2023. Patients 65 years and older with at least 2 visits 30 days apart to their primary care physicians were eligible. None of the 65931 included patients had a history of low thyrotropin (TSH) level or cognitive disorder diagnoses within 6 months of their first visit. Data analysis was performed from January 1 through August 5, 2023. Exposure: The exposure variable was a low TSH level, characterized based on the clinical context as due to endogenous thyrotoxicosis, exogenous thyrotoxicosis, or unknown cause, excluding those attributable to acute illness or other medical factors such as medications. Main Outcomes and Measures: The outcome measure was cognitive disorders, including mild cognitive impairment and all-cause dementia, to improve sensitivity and account for the underdiagnosis of dementia in primary care. Results: A total of 65931 patients were included in the analysis (median [IQR] age at first visit, 68.0 [65.0-74.0] years; 37208 [56%] were female; 46106 [69.9%] were White). Patients exposed to thyrotoxicosis had cognitive disorder incidence of 11.0% (95% CI, 8.4%-14.2%) by age 75 years vs 6.4% (95% CI, 6.0%-6.8%) for those not exposed. After adjustment, all-cause thyrotoxicosis was significantly associated with risk of cognitive disorder diagnosis (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.18-1.64; P <.001) across age groups. When stratified by cause and severity, exogenous thyrotoxicosis remained a significant risk factor (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.34; 95% CI, 1.10-1.63; P =.003) with point estimates suggestive of a dose response. Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study among patients 65 years and older, a low TSH level from either endogenous or exogenous thyrotoxicosis was associated with higher risk of incident cognitive disorder. Iatrogenic thyrotoxicosis is a common result of thyroid hormone therapy. With thyroid hormone among the most common prescriptions in the US, understanding the negative effects of overtreatment is critical to help guide prescribing practice..

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1324-1331
Number of pages8
JournalJAMA internal medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 4 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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