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PLoS One. 2016 Feb 29;11(2):e0149979. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0149979. eCollection 2016.

Is There Any Effect on Smell and Taste Functions with Levothyroxine Treatment in Subclinical Hypothyroidism?

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Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Haydarpaşa Training Hospital, Gulhane Military Medical School, Istanbul, Turkey.
Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Istanbul Surgery Hospital, Istanbul, Turkey.
Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Erzincan Military Hospital, Erzincan, Turkey.
Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Haydarpaşa Training Hospital, Gulhane Military Medical School, Istanbul, Turkey.
Department of Neurology, Haydarpaşa Training Hospital, Gulhane Military Medical School, Istanbul, Turkey.
Interdisciplinary Center "Smell & Taste", Department of Otorhinolaryngology, TU Dresden, Dresden, Germany.


Subclinical hypothyroidism has been accused for coronary heart disease, lipid metabolism disorders, neuropsychiatric disorders, infertility or pregnancy related problems with various strength of evidence. Currently there is insufficient knowledge about olfaction and taste functions in subclinical hypothyroidism. Aim of the present study is to investigate the degree of smell and taste dysfunction in patients with subclinical hypothyroidism. 28 subclinical hypothyroid patients, and 31 controls enrolled in the prospective study in Istanbul, Turkey. Subclinical hypothyroid patients were treated with L-thyroxine for 3 months. Psychophysiological olfactory testing was performed using odor dispensers similar to felt-tip pens ("Sniffin' Sticks", Burghart, Wedel, Germany). Taste function tests were made using "Taste Strips" (Burghart, Wedel, Germany) which are basically tastant adsorbed filter paper strip. Patients scored lower on psychophysical olfactory tests than controls (odor thresholds:8.1±1.0 vs 8.9±1.1, p = 0.007; odor discrimination:12.4±1.3 vs 13.1±0.9, p = 0.016; odor identification:13.1±0.9 vs 14.0±1.1, p = 0.001; TDI score: 33.8±2.4 vs 36.9±2.1, p = 0.001). In contrast, results from psychophysical gustatory tests showed only a decreased score for "bitter" in patients, but not for other tastes (5.9±1.8 vs 6.6±1.0, p = 0.045). Three month after onset of treatment olfactory test scores already indicated improvement (odor thresholds:8.1±1.0 vs 8.6±0.6, p<0.001; odor discrimination:12.4±1.31 vs 12.9±0.8, p = 0.011; odor identification:13.1±0.9 vs 13.9±0.8, p<0.001; TDI scores:33.8±2.4 vs 35.5±1.7, p<0.001) respectively. Taste functions did not differ between groups for sweet, salty and, sour tastes but bitter taste was improved after 3 months of thyroxin substitution (patients:5.9±1.8 vs 6.6±1.2, p = 0.045). Correlation of changes in smell and taste, with thyroid function test were also evaluated. TSH, fT4 were found have no correlation with smell and taste changes with treatment. However bitter taste found positively correlated with T3 with treatment(r: 0.445, p: 0.018). Subclinical hypothyroid patients exhibited a significantly decreased olfactory sensitivity; in addition, bitter taste was significantly affected. Most importantly, these deficits can be remedied on average within 3 months with adequate treatment.

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