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Open Access Research article

Thyroid disease awareness is associated with high rates of identifying subjects with previously undiagnosed thyroid dysfunction

Gay J Canaris*, Thomas G Tape and Robert S Wigton

Author affiliations

University of Nebraska Medical Center, College of Medicine, Omaha, NE, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:351  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-351

Published: 16 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Conventional screening for hypothyroidism is controversial. Although hypothyroidism is underdiagnosed, many organizations do not recommend screening, citing low disease prevalence in unselected populations. We studied attendees at a thyroid health fair, hypothesizing that certain patient characteristics would enhance the yield of testing.

Methods

We carried out an observational study of participants at a Michigan health fair that focused on thyroid disease. We collected patient-reported symptoms and demographics by questionnaire, and correlated these with the TSH values obtained through the health fair.

Results

794 of 858 health fair attendees participated. Most were women, and over 40% reported a family history of thyroid disease. We identified 97 (12.2%) participants with previously unknown thyroid dysfunction. No symptom or combination of symptoms discriminated between hypothyroid and euthyroid individuals. Hypothyroid and euthyroid participants in the health fair reported each symptom with a similar prevalence (pā€‰>ā€‰0.01), a prevalence which was very high. In fact, when compared with a previously published case-control study that reported symptoms, the euthyroid health fair participants reported a higher symptom prevalence (range 3.9% to 66.3%, mean 31.5%), than the euthyroid individuals from the case-control study (range 2% to 54%, mean 17.4%).

Conclusions

A high proportion of previously undiagnosed thyroid disease was identified at this health fair. We initially hypothesized symptoms would distinguish between thyroid function states. However, this was not the case in this health fair screening population. The prevalence of reported symptoms was similar and high in both euthyroid and hypothyroid participants. Because attendees were self-selected, it is possible that this health fair that focused on thyroid disease attracted participants specifically concerned about thyroid health. Despite the lack of symptom discrimination, the much higher prevalence of hypothyroidism in this study (12%) compared with the general population (<2%) suggests that screening may be appropriate and effective in certain circumstances such as thyroid health fairs.

Keywords:
Health fair; Screening; Bias; Thyroid disease