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Women with hypothyroidism have fewer chronic musculoskeletal symptoms than other women

(July 2005)

The background of the study. Musculoskeletal symptoms and thyroid dysfunction are common. This study evaluated the relationships between these two conditions.

How the study was done. The study subjects were 30,693 adultswho lived in a county of Norway and completed questionnaires about musculoskeletal symptoms. Serum thyrotropin (TSH) was measured in all the subjects, and serum free thyroxine (T4) was measured in those who had abnormal serum TSH values.

The results of the study. Among these 30,693 people, 16,260 (53 percent) reported chronic musculoskeletal symptoms, defined as continuous pain or stiffness of the muscles or joints of the following three regions (the neck or shoulders; hips or back; and elbows, wrists or hands, knees, or ankles or feet), for at least three months.

In the women, the frequency of musculoskeletal symptoms was inversely related to the serum TSH concentration; 61 percent of the women with low serum TSH values had these symptoms, as compared with 56 percent of those with normal serum TSH values and 50 percent of those with high serum TSH values. There was no relationship between these symptoms and serum TSH values in the men.

The conclusions of the study. Chronic musculoskeletal symptoms are more common in women with hyperthyroidism, and less common in those with hypothyroidism, as compared with women with normal thyroid function. The lower frequency of symptoms in the women with hypothyroidism may be attributable to a decrease in sensitivity to pain.

The original article. Hagen K, Bjoro T, Zwart JA, Svebak S, Bovim G, Stovner LJ. Do high TSH values protect against chronic musculoskeletal complaints? The Nord-Trondelag Health Study (HUNT). Pain 2005;113:416-21.

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