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Iodized salt improves the effectiveness of l-thyroxine therapy after surgery for nontoxic goitre: a prospective and randomized study


Dr Carlo Carella, Via Crispi, 44, 80121 Naples, Italy. Tel.: + 39 081 5666632; Fax: + 39 081 5666632; E-mail:


objective To investigate whether the addition of iodized salt to daily diet in thyroidectomized patients for nontoxic goitre could influence the effectiveness of nonsuppressive l-thyroxine (L-T4) therapy on thyroid remnant size, during 12 months’ follow-up after thyroid surgery.

design and patients A consecutive series of selected 139 patients (26 males, 113 females; median age 45 years, range 30–69 years) living in a moderate iodine-deficient area, and undergoing thyroid surgery for nontoxic multinodular goitre, was enrolled. Patients were assigned randomly to two different therapeutic regimens: 70 patients received L-T4 therapy alone (Gr. L-T4), while the remaining 69 patients took iodized salt on a daily basis in addition to L-T4 treatment (Gr. L-T4 + I). In both groups, the initial L-T4 dose was 1·5 µg/kg/day, which, in our experience, has been shown to be intermediate between suppressive and replacement doses. To avoid the risks of mild thyrotoxicosis and to limit the excessive TSH stimulation of the thyroid remnant, the L-T4 dose was adjusted in those patients with serum TSH levels outside the lowest two-thirds of the normal range (0·3–2·5 mU/l). An ultrasound evaluation of thyroid remnant size was performed after thyroid surgery and 12 months later.

results After surgery, the median thyroid remnant volume was 3·5 ml (range 0·4–13·9 ml) in Gr. L-T4 and 4·6 ml (range 0·5–12·7 ml) in Gr. L-T4 + I (P = 0·06). After 1 year of follow-up, the patients treated with L-T4 + I obtained a remnant volume reduction (−39·7%, range −87·0% to +91·2%) significantly (P = 0·006) greater than that observed in patients assuming L-T4 alone (−10·2%, range −89·4% to +85·0%). However, the percentage of patients showing an increase in remnant size in the months following surgery was higher in Gr. L-T4 than in Gr. L-T4 + I (22/60 vs. 9/66; P = 0·01).

In Gr. L-T4 patients the thyroid remnant volume variation throughout 12 months of treatment was correlated significantly with the size of the thyroid remnant found at the first ultrasound evaluation (R2 = 0·3; P < 0·001). No such correlation was found in Gr. L-T4 + I patients, for whom the therapy maintains a similar effectiveness in patients with either a large or a small postsurgery thyroid remnant.

In patients treated with L-T4 alone, the remnant volume variation was correlated significantly with the median serum TSH values attained in the course of treatment (R2 = 0·4; P < 0·001). The highest reduction in remnant volume was observed only by lowering the serum TSH concentrations. In patients treated with L-T4 plus iodine, instead, the thyroid remnant volume reduction occurred independently of the plasma TSH levels attained in the course of treatment.

conclusions Our short-term prospective and randomized study leads us to conclude that, in patients living in a moderate iodine-deficient area and undergoing thyroid surgery for nontoxic goitre: (1) the iodine prophylaxis improves the effects of postsurgery nonsuppressive L-T4 therapy on thyroid remnant size. (2) In patients treated with L-T4 alone the therapeutic effectiveness decreases in the presence of a large postsurgery thyroid remnant. With the addition of iodine, the L-T4 maintains a similar efficacy in patients with either a large or a small remnant. (3) During treatment with L-T4 alone the highest therapeutic effectiveness is attained by lowering the plasma TSH concentration. With the addition of iodized salt to the daily diet the effects of L-T4 on remnant size are relevant independently of the TSH levels.