Background The aims of this study were: (1) to calculate reliable thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) reference intervals using laboratory databases; (2) to evaluate the relationship between TSH, sex and age values in different large Italian populations. Methods The TSH values stored in the laboratory information system of clinical laboratories of four Italian city hospitals, including 146,801 TSH measurements (with the respective age and sex data of individuals) were taken in consideration. Assuming a log-normal distribution, to log-transformed TSH values were applied the Dixon's iterative principle in order to exclude the outliers. At the end of this iterative process 142,821 log-transformed TSH results remained. The four clinical laboratories measured serum TSH concentrations using the same TSH immunoassay method (Access TSH 3rd IS, using UniCel DxI platform). Results The TSH reference interval calculated in the present study (0.362-5.280 mIU/L) is similar to that suggested by the manufacturer for the Access TSH 3rd IS assay (0.45-5.33 mIU/L). TSH values in females were significantly higher than in males (females: mean=2.06 mIU/L; standard deviation [SD]=1.26 mIU/L; n=101,243; males: mean=1.92 mIU/L; SD=1.19 mIU/L; n=41,578; p<0.0001). Moreover, a negative linear relationship was observed between TSH throughout all interval age values (from 0 to 105 years). Conclusions The results of the present multicenter study confirm that data mining techniques can be used to calculate clinically useful reference intervals for TSH. From a pathophysiological point of view, our results suggest that some Northern populations of Italy might still suffer some harmful effects on the thyroid gland due to mild to moderate iodine intake deficiency. Specific clinical trials are needed to confirm these results.
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