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Charlotte Cerqueira, Nils Knudsen, Lars Ovesen, Peter Laurberg, Hans Perrild, Lone B Rasmussen and Torben Jørgensen

Objective

Iodization of salt was introduced in Denmark in 1998 because of mild-to-moderate iodine deficiency (ID). The aim of this study was to analyze the utilization rate of surgery and radioiodine therapy for benign thyroid disorders before and after the introduction of iodization, and to study a possible association between the changes and the raised iodine intake.

Design

A nationwide register study.

Methods

Information on operations and radioiodine treatments for benign thyroid disorders was extracted from nationwide registers in the years 1990 to 2007. Treatment rates are presented for surgery and for radioiodine separately, and as a combined rate, both nationwide and split by the regions of prior mild and moderate ID.

Results

A total of 65 605 treatments were identified: 26 456 operations and 39 149 radioiodine treatments. In the first years of iodization (1998–2000; rate ratio 2000/1997), the combined treatment rate increased with 2.5% (95% confidence interval (CI): −1.8–7.1). Split by prior ID level, the increase was seen in the region of moderate ID, but a decrease was seen in the region of mild ID. After 2000, the combined rate decreased, and ended up being 11.1% (95% CI: 7.1–15.0) lower in 2007 than before iodization (rate ratio 2007/1997). The changes were primarily due to changes in the use of radioiodine therapy as the surgery rates remained almost constant.

Conclusions

Iodization seemed to be associated with a temporary increase in the utilization rate of surgery and radioiodine therapy in the region of prior moderate ID, probably as a result of treatment of iodine-induced hyperthyroidism, but the rates ended up being lower than before iodization.

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Pernille Vejbjerg, Nils Knudsen, Hans Perrild, Peter Laurberg, Inge Bülow Pedersen, Lone B Rasmussen, Lars Ovesen and Torben Jørgensen

Objective: Patients with overt hypothyroidism show decreased echogenicity of the thyroid at ultrasonography (US). The aim of this study was to investigate the association between echogenicity of the thyroid/irregular echo pattern, and thyroid function in the general population, i.e. subjects without overt thyroid disease.

Design: A cross-sectional investigation of 4649 randomly selected adult subjects.

Methods: Blood samples were analysed for serum TSH, thyroid hormones and thyroid autoantibodies. US of the thyroid was performed.

Results: Participants with decreased echogenicity (n=379) had a higher mean TSH (1.65 mU/l) compared with subjects with normal echogenicity (1.21 mU/l, P<0.0001). The association was stronger in subjects with markedly decreased echogenicity (4.20 mU/l, P<0.0001). A similar association was seen when the subjects were divided into subgroups according to the level of TSH; more subjects with high levels of TSH had decreased echogenicity (P<0.0001). Likewise, more subjects with high levels of TSH had an irregular echo pattern (P<0.0001). Subjects with decreased echogenicity had a higher risk of having thyroid autoantibodies than subjects without decreased echogenicity (P<0.0001). This association was stronger when echogenicity was markedly decreased.

Conclusions: We demonstrated an association between hypoechogenicity at thyroid US and higher levels of serum TSH even in subjects without overt thyroid disease, suggesting decreased echogenicity as an early sign of thyroid dysfunction. Irregular echo pattern, whether accompanied by hypoechogenicity or not, was another possible marker of thyroid failure. This indicates a possible use of thyroid US in detecting early and subclinical thyroid dysfunction.

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Peter Laurberg, Torben Jørgensen, Hans Perrild, Lars Ovesen, Nils Knudsen, Inge Bülow Pedersen, Lone B Rasmussen, Allan Carlé and Pernille Vejbjerg

Objective: Denmark was an area of iodine deficiency, and mandatory iodine fortification of table salt and salt in bread (13 p.p.m. iodine) was initiated in 2000/2001. The Danish investigation on iodine intake and thyroid disease (DanThyr) is the monitoring of the iodine fortification program.

Design and methods: DanThyr consists of three main parts: a study of population cohorts initialized before (n = 4649) and after (n = 3570) iodization of salt, a prospective identification of incident cases of overt hyper- and hypothyroidism in a population of around 550 000 people since 1997, and compilation of data from the national registers on the use of thyroid medication, thyroid surgery, and radioiodine therapy. Studies were carried-out in parallel in subcohorts living in areas with differences in iodine content of ground water.

Results: The study showed profound effects of even small differences in iodine intake level on the prevalence of goiter, nodules, and thyroid dysfunction. Mild and moderate iodine deficiency was associated with a decrease in serum TSH with age. Other environmental factors were also important for goiter development (increase in risk, smoking and pregnancy; decrease in risk, oral contraception and alcohol consumption), and the individual risk depended on the genetic background. Environmental factors had only a minor influence on the prevalence of thyroid autoantibodies in the population. There were more cases of overt hypothyroidism in mild than in moderate iodine deficiency caused by a 53% higher incidence of spontaneous (presumably autoimmune) hypothyroidism. On the other hand, there were 49% more cases of overt hyperthyroidism in the area with moderate iodine deficiency. The cautious iodine fortification program, aiming at an average increase in iodine intake of 50 μg/day has been associated with a 50% increase in incidence of hyperthyroidism in the area with the most severe iodine deficiency. The incidence is expected to decrease in the future, but there may be more cases of Graves’ hyperthyroidism in young people.

Conclusion: A number of environmental factors influence the epidemiology of thyroid disorders, and even relatively small abnormalities and differences in the level of iodine intake of a population have profound effects on the occurrence of thyroid abnormalities. Monitoring and adjustment of iodine intake in the population is an important part of preventive medicine.

Free access

Pernille Vejbjerg, Nils Knudsen, Hans Perrild, Peter Laurberg, Allan Carlé, Inge Bülow Pedersen, Lone B Rasmussen, Lars Ovesen and Torben Jørgensen

Objective

The iodine status of a population is traditionally evaluated by either urinary iodine (UI) excretion or by some measure of thyroid volume and the prevalence of goitre. In this prospective study of a mandatory iodization programme, we aimed to evaluate serum thyroglobulin (Tg) as a marker of iodine status in the population.

Methods

Two identical cross-sectional studies were performed before (1997–1998, n=4649) and after (2004–2005, n=3570) the initiation of the Danish iodization programme in two areas with mild and moderate iodine deficiency. Serum Tg was measured from blood samples. Thyroid volume was measured by ultrasonography.

Results

Before iodization, the median serum Tg was considerably higher in moderate than in mild iodine deficiency. Iodization led to a lower serum Tg in all examined age groups. The marked pre-iodization difference in Tg level between the regions was eliminated. The prevalence of Tg above the suggested reference limit (40 μg/l) decreased from 11.3 to 3.7% (P<0.0001). Using bootstrapping, we demonstrated a higher efficacy of Tg than of thyroid volume to show a difference between pre- and post-iodization values.

Conclusion

We found serum Tg to be a suitable marker of iodine nutrition status in the population. The results may suggest that the Danish iodization programme has led to a sufficient iodine intake, even if the median UI excretion is still marginally low according to WHO criteria.