JOURNAL ARTICLE
RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIAL

Effects of l-thyroxine administration, TSH-receptor antibodies and smoking on the risk of recurrence in Graves' hyperthyroidism treated with antithyroid drugs: a double-blind prospective randomized study

D Glinoer, P de Nayer, M Bex
European Journal of Endocrinology 2001, 144 (5): 475-83
11331213

OBJECTIVE: In Graves' hyperthyroidism treated with antithyroid drugs (ATD), the overall relapse rate reaches 30-50% following ATD discontinuation. Conflicting results have previously been reported with regard to the usefulness of combining ATD with thyroxine (l-T4), and thereafter maintaining l-T4 treatment after ATD withdrawal. Also, clinicians are in search of useful parameters to predict the risk of a recurrence of hyperthyroidism after ATD treatment.

DESIGN: Eighty-two consecutive patients (70 women and 12 men; mean age 36 years) with a first episode of Graves' hyperthyroidism were investigated prospectively; they were treated with ATD for a total of 15 months, combined with l-T4 (for at least 12 months) after they had reached euthyroidism, with the aim of maintaining serum TSH below 2.5 mU/l during the combined therapy. Following ATD discontinuation, the patients were randomly assigned (double-blind placebo-controlled trial) to taking 100 microg/day l-T4 (vs placebo) for an additional year.

METHODS: The following determinations were carried out at initial diagnosis: serum total T4 and tri-iodothyronine (T3), free T4 and T3, TSH, TSH-receptor antibodies (TSHR-Ab), thyroid scintigraphy and echography. During ATD treatment, serum free T4 and T3 and TSH concentrations were recorded after 1 (optional), 2, 4, 6, 9, 12 and 15 months, and echography at the end of ATD treatment. During the randomized trial, serum free T4 and T3 and TSH concentrations were checked every 3 months (or until a recurrence). TSHR-Ab titers were measured at initial diagnosis, after 6 months with ATD, and at the end of ATD treatment.

RESULTS: l-T4 administration, both during and after ATD treatment, did not improve the final outcome and recurrence rates were similar in placebo and l-T4-treated patients (30%). Two parameters were identified that might be useful to help predict recurrence risks after ATD: (i) positive TSHR-Ab (at the end of ATD treatment) was significantly associated with a greatly increased recurrence risk; and (ii) despite the relatively small number of patients who were smokers, regular cigarette smoking was shown, for the first time, to be significantly associated with an increased recurrence risk. Also, the deleterious effect of smoking was shown to manifest its impact independently of TSHR-Ab titers at the end of ATD treatment. Thus, compared with the overall 30% recurrence risk, non-smoking patients with a negative TSHR-Ab (at the end of ATD) had a lower (18%) recurrence risk; smoking patients with negative TSHR-Ab (at the end of ATD) had a 57% recurrence risk; non-smoking patients with positive TSHR-Ab (at the end of ATD) had a high (86%) recurrence risk; the recurrence risk was 100% in those few patients who both smoked and maintained a positive TSHR-Ab at the end of ATD treatment.

CONCLUSIONS: The present study confirmed that l-T4 administration during and after ATD withdrawal did not improve remission rate. Two factors, namely positive TSHR-Ab at the end of ATD treatment and regular smoking habits may represent clinically useful (albeit not absolute) predictors of the risk of recurrence in patients with Graves' hyperthyroidism treated with ATD. However, due to the relatively small number of smoking patients in the present cohort, this conclusion needs to be confirmed by a larger study.

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