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Fabio Galetta, Ferdinando Franzoni, Poupak Fallahi, Leonardo Tocchini, Lara Braccini, Gino Santoro and Alessandro Antonelli

Objective

The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effect of clinical hypothyroidism on cardiovascular autonomic function and ventricular repolarization.

Design and methods

We studied 31 patients (22 females and 9 males; mean age 53.6±11.8 years) with overt hypothyroidism (TSH=56.2±14.7 μU/ml, low free thyroxine (T4), free tri-iodothyronine (T3)) and 31 euthyroid controls, to investigate the dispersion of the QT interval in electrocardiogram (ECG) (an index of inhomogeneity of repolarization) and heart rate variability (HRV; a measure of cardiac autonomic modulation). The hypothyroid patients and controls underwent a full medical examination, standard 12-lead ECG, and 24-h ambulatory ECG monitoring. The hypothyroid patients were re-examined after 6 months of treatment with l-T4.

Results

Patients with hypothyroidism showed higher QT dispersion and lower HRV measures than controls (P<0.01 or P<0.001). In hypothyroid patients, standard deviation of all RR intervals was inversely related (by simple regression) to serum (log)TSH levels (r=−0.47, P=0.008), while QT dispersion (r=0.50, P=0.004) and QTc dispersion (r=0.46, P=0.008) were directly related to (log)TSH. Parameters of HRV improved after 6 months of l-T4 treatment, with the correction of hypothyroidism, becoming comparable with those of the control subjects, whereas the QT and QTc dispersion results were found to be only partially restored, remaining higher than the controls.

Conclusions

The results of the study demonstrate that hypothyroidism is associated with a decreased sympatho-vagal modulation of the heart rate and with an increased inhomogeneity of ventricular recovery times. The assessment of HRV and QT dispersion in patients with overt hypothyroidism may represent a useful tool in monitoring the cardiovascular risks.