Older patients being over-tested for thyroid problems, study suggests

The majority of tests are requested by GPs (Anthony Devlin/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

GPs may be over-testing older patients for thyroid problems, a new study suggests.

Estimates suggest that as many as 30% of older patients are referred for thyroid function tests.

Annual costs for thyroid function tests in the UK stand at around £30 million, with the majority of tests requested by GPs.

The authors of a new study, led by researchers from the University of Warwick, claimed that GPs “repeatedly” request such tests among older patients “in response to vague symptoms, previously mildly abnormal tests, or as part of other routine care monitoring”.

They said that recommendations for how often thyroid function tests (TFTs) should be repeated are “lacking” as they set out to examine whether repeat testing is beneficial.

The research team analysed data on almost 3,000 patients taking part in the Birmingham Elderly Thyroid Study.

The participants, all over the age of 65 from 19 GP practices across the UK, had normal thyroid function at the start of the study and were re-tested after about five years.

Only 17 cases of overt thyroid dysfunction were identified, according to the study, published in the British Journal of General Practice.

“High stability of thyroid function demonstrated over the 5-year interval period should discourage repeat testing,” the authors wrote.

“Based on this evidence, routine repeat thyroid function testing among older individuals who have a recent (within 5 years) euthyroid result in their clinical record is not advised, unless clinically indicated.”

They added that reducing repeat testing could also result in cost savings for the NHS.