Original Article

OPEN: Effects of Long-Term Combination LT4 and LT3 Therapy for Improving Hypothyroidism and Overall Quality of Life

Authors: Anam Tariq, DO, Yijin Wert, MS, Pramil Cheriyath, MD, Renu Joshi, MD


Objectives: Hypothyroidism results in decreased mood and neurocognition, weight gain, fatigue, and many other undesirable symptoms. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the American Thyroid Association (ATA), and The Endocrine Society recommend levothyroxine (LT4) monotherapy as the treatment for hypothyroidism; however, after years of monotherapy, some patients continue to experience impaired quality of life. Combination LT4 and synthetic liothyronine (LT3) therapy or the use of desiccated thyroid extract (DTE), has not been suggested for this indication based on short-duration studies with no significant benefits. Our first observational study examined the role of combination therapy for 6 years in improving quality of life in a subset of a hypothyroid population without adverse effects and cardiac mortality.

Methods: An observational retrospective study examining patients prescribed thyroid replacements with serum triiodothyronine (FT3), LT4 with LT3 (synthetic therapy) or DTE (natural therapy), compared with LT4 alone in the United States from 2010 to 2016. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), serum thyroxine (FT4), and FT3 levels were documented for each patient in addition to any admissions of myxedema coma, thyrotoxicosis, or cardiovascular complications, such as arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, and mortality. At the conclusion of the study, a cross-sectional interview assessed quality of life for each combination therapy through the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-20 questionnaire.

Results: Compared with patients taking only LT4, 89.47% using synthetic therapy had therapeutic TSH (P < 0.05). Similarly, 96.49% using natural therapy had therapeutic TSH (P < 0.05). Less than 5% of patients had supratherapeutic FT3. None of the patients who had abnormally low TSH or elevated FT3 or FT4 levels had hospitalizations for arrhythmias or thyrotoxicosis. On the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-20 questionnaire, >92% answered feeling “excellent, very good, or good” when questioned about their health while undergoing thyroid replacement compared with levothyroxine alone.

Conclusions: This is the only retrospective study reported to use long-term (mean 27 months) thyroid replacements with combination therapy and to compare between the two forms of therapy: synthetic and natural. For patients undergoing either therapy, we did not identify additional risks of atrial fibrillation, cardiovascular disease, or mortality in patients of all ages with hypothyroidism.

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Fig. Survey results of the combination therapies. SF-20 Questions, Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-20 questionnaire.

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Table. Thyroid function results when comparing LT4 monotherapy with combination therapy, synthetic LT4/LT3 therapy, or natural desiccated thyroid extract

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