by Mary J. Shomon
June 29, 2001 -- If your doctor has told you that you have tested positive for the presence of "thyroid
antibodies," but you have a normal thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level, what does that mean?
Typically, it means that you have autoimmune thyroid disease, and that your thyroid is in the process of
autoimmune dysfunction. The level of dysfunction may not be significant enough to register as an
out-of-range TSH level, but the presence of antibodies may in fact generate hyperthyroid or hypothyroid
Many doctors will not treat patients who present clinical symptoms of hypothyroidism, test positive for
Hashimoto's antibodies, but have a normal TSH level -- known as being "euthyroid" -- or, "in the normal
There are, however, some endocrinologists, as well as holistic MDs, osteopaths and other practitioners
who believe that the presence of thyroid antibodies alone is enough to warrant treatment with small
amounts of thyroid hormone. If you've tested positive for antibodies, and have a TSH in the "normal
range," but still don't feel well, you may with to consult with a practitioner who has this philosophy.
The practice of treating patients who have Hashimoto's thyroiditis but normal range TSH levels is
supported by a new study, reported on in the March 2001 issue of the journal Thyroid. In
this study, German researchers reported that use of levothyroxine treatment for cases of Hashimoto's
autoimmune thyroiditis where TSH had not yet elevated ("euthyroid") beyond normal range could reduce
the incidence and degree of autoimmune disease progression.
In the study of 21 patients with euthyroid Hashimoto's Thyroiditis (normal range TSH, but elevated
antibodies), half of the patients were treated with levothyroxine for a year, the other half were not
treated. After 1 year of therapy with levothyroxine, the antibody levels and lymphocytes (evidence of
inflammation) decreased significantly only in the group receiving the medication. Among the untreated
group, the antibody levels rose or remained the same.
The researchers concluded that preventative treatment of normal TSH range patients with Hashimoto's
disease reduced the various markers of autoimmune thyroiditis, and speculated that that such treatment
might even be able to stop the progression of Hashimoto's disease, or perhaps even prevent development
of the hypothyroidism.
Journal Reference: Thyroid, 2001 Mar;11(3):249-55, "One-year prophylactic
treatment of euthyroid Hashimoto's thyroiditis patients with levothyroxine: is there a benefit?"
More information on autoimmune thyroid disease is available in Living Well With Autoimmune Disease.