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Thyroid. 2007 Nov;17(11):1067-73.

Cardiovascular risk in elderly hypothyroid patients.

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  • 1Endocrinology, Department of Medical Sciences M. Aresu, University of Cagliari, Policlinico Universitario di Monserrato, Monserrato, Cagliari, Italy. mariotti@pacs.unica.it


Overt hypothyroidism (OH) and subclinical hypothyroidism (SH) are frequently found in the elderly. OH is associated with several functional cardiovascular abnormalities and increased risk of atherosclerosis resulting from hypertension associated to atherogenic lipid profile. Other potential atherogenic factors involved in OH are increased circulating C-reactive protein and homocysteine, increased arterial stiffness, endothelial dysfunction, and altered coagulation parameters. Similar (although mild) cardiovascular abnormalities are present in SH. Since all these abnormalities regress with levothyroxine (L-T4) administration, the cardiovascular benefits of replacement therapy in OH are not questionable, independently from the patient's age or the presence of coexisting cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, in spite of a very large number of studies, no consensus has been reached so far about the actual cardiovascular and/or general health impact of SH, and different recommendations have been recently made about screening and treatment of this condition. Although divergent results have been obtained in several epidemiological studies, recent meta-analyses provide evidence for a slight but significant increase of coronary heart disease (CHD) risk in SH. However, no agreement has been reached in favor or against active screening and/or treatment of mild thyroid failure. Moreover, L-T4 therapy is discouraged in aged subjects, because the increased oxygen consumption consequent to thyroid hormone administration could be dangerous, especially in the presence of coexisting CHD. In keeping with this concept are recent data showing reduced mortality risk in untreated mild hypothyroid subjects aged >85 years, suggesting that some degree of decreased thyroid activity at the tissue level might have favorable effects in the oldest-old. However, the effects of subtle thyroid dysfunction may be different in different age ranges. Since the main studies supporting a role for SH as a risk factor for atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality have been carried out in populations aged > or =55-60 years, mild thyroid failure could concur to increased cardiovascular risk in middle-aged and "young elderly" subjects, while being devoid of detrimental effects and possibly protective in the oldest-old. Further studies are needed to confirm this hypothesis.

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