Thoughts on prevention of thyroid disease in the United States

David S. Cooper, E. Chester Ridgway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


In the realm of preventive medicine, there are three distinct types of prevention that can be defined. Primary prevention is the prevention of new disease in previously healthy individuals, usually achieved by decreasing risk factors for disease. Secondary prevention is the prevention of progression of mild or latent disease to more severe disease, and typically involves screening for occult disease. Tertiary prevention is the term used by some to describe medical care intended to improve already established disease. The role of primary prevention of thyroid disease in the United States is uncertain, because iodine deficiency is not clearly known to be a problem. In the case of secondary prevention of thyroid disease, this would necessarily involve screening of individuals for subclinical hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism with thyrotropin (TSH) testing. Using data from a large prevalence study and from the 2000 U.S. Census, it can be calculated that approximately 15 million adults have unrecognized thyroid disease, mostly subclinical hypothyroidism. If detected, secondary prevention might also entail treatment with antithyroid drugs/radioiodine or thyroxine to prevent sequelae or progression to a more advanced degree of thyrotoxicosis or thyroid failure, respectively. Over the next 20 years, it can be calculated that approximately 5 million people, mostly with subclinical hypothyroidism, will progress to overt disease. Tertiary prevention of thyroid disease would involve avoiding iatrogenic disease, such as thyroid hormone overdose. From epidemiologic data it can be calculated that approximately 600, 00 elderly individuals have iatrogenic hyperthyroidism from thyroid hormone overdose, putting them at risk for atrial fibrillation and osteoporosis. Together, these data suggest that the notion of preventive medicine in the United States should be expanded to include thyroid disease as a target for secondary and tertiary intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)925-929
Number of pages5
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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