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Endocrinologists Say TSH Normal Range is Now 0.3 to 3

New Guidelines Say Millions More Are at Thyroid Risk

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Updated April 05, 2014

In the Fall of 2002, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) announced that what was normal the year before, thyroid-wise, would now be considered abnormal.

According to the AACE, doctors had typically been basing their diagnoses on the "normal" range for the TSH test. The typical normal reference range levels at most laboratories ran in the 0.5 to 5.0 range.

The new guidelines narrowed the range for acceptable thyroid function, and the AACE was encouraging doctors to consider thyroid treatment for patients who test outside the target TSH reference range of 0.3 to 3.0, a far narrower range. AACE believed that use of the new range would result in proper diagnosis for millions of Americans who suffer from a mild thyroid disorder, but have gone untreated.

At a press conference, Hossein Gharib, MD, FACE, and president of AACE, said: "This means that there are more people with minor thyroid abnormalities than previously perceived."

AACE estimates that the new guidelines actually double the number of people who have abnormal thyroid function, bringing the total to as many as 27 million, up from 13 million thought to have the condition under the old guidelines. These new estimates would make thyroid disease the most common endocrine disorder in North America, far outpacing diabetes.

AACE made the decision to narrow the range because of data suggesting many people may have low-level thyroid problems that could be improved with treatment and a narrower TSH range will give doctors reason to more carefully consider those patients.

"The prevalence of undiagnosed thyroid disease in the United States is shockingly high - particularly since it is a condition that is easy to diagnose and treat," said Dr. Gharib. "The new TSH range from the AACE guidelines gives physicians the information they need to diagnose mild thyroid disease before it can lead to more serious effects on a patient's health - such as elevated cholesterol, heart disease, osteoporosis, infertility, and depression."

Commentary from Mary Shomon

This announcement from AACE represented a long-overdue and much-needed improvement in the level of awareness of endocrinologists. After decades of denying that patients within the normal range of TSH could in fact have a thyroid condition, they were acknowledging what patients and advocates had been saying quite vocally for years: that the high and low end of the normal range is not, in fact, normal for most people.

It is, however, also clear that the endocrinology community has a long way to go in terms of true understanding of the patient condition, when you read the words of Dr. Gharib, an endocrinologist and president of AACE. Dr. Gharib parrots the official endocrinologist party line when he states that thyroid disease, "is a condition that is easy to diagnose and treat."

Dr. Gharib's pronouncement contradicts the AACE's own statement on many levels.

First, many family doctors, general practitioners and even endocrinologists have absolutely no idea about these new guidelines from the AACE, and as of this week, are still routinely denying diagnosis and treatment to patients who have TSH levels that fall in the level between 3.0 and 6.0, or between .1 and .3. So, until the word it out, and accepted, thyroid disease continues to be a condition that is not easy to diagnose.

Second, until this announcement, people who had clear symptoms of thyroid disease, but were in the .1 to .3, or 3 to 6 range on the TSH scale were considered "euthyroid" (normal) by almost all endocrinologists and practitioners. They were not diagnosed as having a thyroid condition, and a total lack of diagnosis cannot be in any way said to be easy, particularly for the unfortunate patients on the receiving end of such sub-standard care. People who had family histories of thyroid disease, symptoms (including enlarged thyroid, goiter, nodules, etc.) but whose TSH tests were in the low or high end of normal were routinely denied treatment, and sent away with no diagnosis and no treatment. This narrow-minded means of diagnosis has been the "standard of care" for conventional doctors and endocrinologists for decades, based on a near- slavish reliance on the TSH test -- often to the exclusion of clinical evidence, symptoms and medical observation.

Third, and equally of concern, many people with symptoms, whose TSH levels fell into the high or low-normal, were told that their problems were actually the result of depression, and given antidepressants. This means that a percentage of the population was misdiagnosed, sometimes stigmatized by the diagnosis of mental illness, and unnecessarily given drugs.

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