Are there benefits to treating subclinical hypothyroidism?
In subclinical (latent) hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland is still producing enough thyroid hormones. But abnormal amounts of other substances in the blood suggest that the thyroid hormone levels are starting to go down. It is still unclear whether there are benefits to treating subclinical hypothyroidism.
If you already have noticeable (overt) hypothyroidism, the thyroid is no longer producing enough thyroid hormones. Thyroxine is the main thyroid hormone. It helps regulate many of the body’s functions and balances your metabolism (chemical reactions in the body). Too little thyroxine can cause a number of different health problems. The symptoms range from skin changes to physical weakness, difficulty concentrating and depression. Hypothyroidism can be easily treated by taking a hormone tablet once a day. These tablets replace the thyroxine that is not being made by the body. The symptoms usually disappear completely as a result.
Subclinical hypothyroidism doesn't cause any noticeable symptoms. The levels of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) are too high, but the thyroid gland is still producing enough hormones. TSH is made in the pituitary gland in the brain. It stimulates the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones. TSH levels that are just a little too high may be the first sign of early stages of hypothyroidism. The pituitary gland detects lower levels of thyroid hormones in the blood and then increases TSH production to activate the thyroid gland to make more hormones.
It is estimated that about 5 out of 100 people have subclinical hypothyroidism. But slightly elevated TSH levels don't pose any health risk themselves. TSH levels are often only temporarily higher, for example after intense physical activity. So there is some disagreement about when subclinical hypothyroidism should be treated.