Subclinical hypothyroidism in Wales from 2000 to 2021: A descriptive cohort study based on electronic health records

Brenda S. Bauer*, Amaya Azcoaga-Lorenzo, Utkarsh Agrawal, Adeniyi Francis Fagbamigbe, Colin McCowan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Subclinical hypothyroidism (SCH) is a biochemical thyroid disorder characterised by elevated levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) together with normal levels of thyroid hormones. Evidence on the benefits of treatment is limited, resulting in persistent controversies relating to its clinical management. Aim This study describes the demographic and clinical characteristics of patients identified as having subclinical hypothyroidism in Wales between 2000 and 2021, the annual cumulative incidence during this period and the testing and treatment patterns associated with this disorder. Methods We used linked electronic health records from SAIL Databank. Eligible patients were identified using a combination of diagnostic codes and Thyroid Function Test results. Descriptive analyses were then performed. Results 199,520 individuals (63.8% female) were identified as having SCH, 23.6% (n = 47,104) of whom received levothyroxine for treatment over the study period. The median study followup time was 5.75 person-years (IQR 2.65-9.65). Annual cumulative incidence was highest in 2012 at 502 cases per 100,000 people. 92.5% (n = 184,484) of the study population had TSH levels between the upper limit of normal and 10mIU/L on their first test. 61.9% (n = 5,071) of patients identified using Read v2 codes were in the treated group. 41.9% (n = 19,716) of treated patients had a history of a single abnormal test result before their first prescription. Conclusion In Wales, the number of incident cases of SCH has risen unevenly between 2000 and 2021. Most of the study population had mild SCH on their index test, but more than a third of the identified patients received levothyroxine after a single abnormal test result. Patients with clinically recorded diagnoses were more likely to be treated. Given the expectation of steadily increasing patient numbers, more evidence is required to support the clinical management of subclinical hypothyroidism.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0298871
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5 May
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2024


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