Presumptive nonthyroidal illness syndrome in critically ill foals



Reasons for performing the study: Hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis dysfunction is associated with morbidity and mortality in critically ill people. To date, investigations of HPT axis in critically ill foals are limited.

Objectives: To document the occurrence of low thyroid hormone concentrations (presumptive nonthyroidal illness syndrome; NTIS) in critically ill newborn foals and investigate whether NTIS is associated with severity of disease and outcome.

Hypothesis: NTIS occurs frequently in foals with sepsis and is associated with sepsis score and outcome. Reverse T3 (rT3) concentrations will be increased in septic foals and highest in nonsurvivors.

Methods: Thyroid hormones (total and free thyroxine [TT4 and fT4], total and free tri-iodothyronine [TT3 and fT3], reverse T3 [rT3]) were prospectively measured in healthy, sick nonseptic and septic foals. Clinical and laboratory information was retrieved from the medical records. Hormones were measured by validated radioimmunoassays.

Results: Concentrations of all thyroid hormones except rT3 (P = 0.69) were decreased in septic and sick nonseptic foals (P<0.01). Reductions in hormone concentrations were associated with an increased sepsis score (P<0.01). Nonsurviving septic foals had lower TT4, fT4, TT3 and fT3 concentrations than surviving septic foals (P<0.01). rT3 concentrations were higher in nonsurviving septic premature foals than surviving septic premature foals (P<0.05).

Conclusions: NTIS (euthyroid sick syndrome) is frequently observed in critically ill and premature foals, and associated with severity of disease and mortality.

Potential relevance: More research is needed to better understand the mechanism of this finding and determine whether manipulation of the HPT axis or thyroid replacement therapy could be beneficial.