Thyroidal production of triiodothyronine (T3) is absent in patients who have undergone total thyroidectomy. Therefore, relative T3 deficiency may occur during postoperative levothyroxine (l-T4) therapy. The objective of this study was to evaluate how the individual serum T3 level changes between preoperative native thyroid function and postoperative l-T4 therapy.
We retrospectively studied 135 consecutive patients with papillary thyroid carcinoma, who underwent total thyroidectomy. Serum free T4 (FT4), free T3 (FT3), and TSH levels measured preoperatively were compared with those levels measured on postoperative l-T4 therapy.
Serum TSH levels during postoperative l-T4 therapy were significantly decreased compared with native TSH levels (P<0.001). Serum FT4 levels were significantly increased (P<0.001). Serum FT3 levels were significantly decreased (P=0.029). We divided the patients into four groups according to postoperative serum TSH levels: strongly suppressed (less than one-tenth of the lower limit); moderately suppressed (between one-tenth of the lower limit and the lower limit); normal limit; and more than upper limit. Patients with strongly suppressed TSH levels had serum FT3 levels significantly higher than the native levels (P<0.001). Patients with moderately suppressed TSH levels had serum FT3 levels equivalent to the native levels (P=0.51), and patients with normal TSH levels had significantly lower serum FT3 levels (P<0.001).
Serum FT3 levels during postoperative l-T4 therapy were equivalent to the preoperative levels in patients with moderately suppressed TSH levels. Our study indicated that a moderately TSH-suppressive dose of l-T4 is required to achieve the preoperative native serum T3 levels in postoperative l-T4 therapy.