Background: Antithyroid drugs are widely used in the therapy of hyperthyroidism. There are wide variations in the dose, regimen or duration of treatment used by health professionals.
Objectives: To assess the effects of dose, regimen and duration of antithyroid drug therapy for Graves' hyperthyroidism.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (Central), MEDLINE, EMBASE, BIOSIS, CINAHL, HEALTHSTAR, Current Controlled Trials and reference lists. We contacted investigators and hand searched conference abstracts. Most recent search: July 2004.
Selection criteria: Randomised and quasi-randomised trials of antithyroid medication for Graves' hyperthyroidism were used.
Data collection and analysis: Trial allocation to included, excluded and awaiting assessment categories was made by consensus. Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed trial quality. Pooling of data for primary outcomes, and select exploratory analyses were undertaken.
Main results: Twenty-three randomised trials involving 3115 participants were included. Overall the quality of trials as reported was poor; specifically in terms of allocation concealment, assessor blinding and loss to follow-up. Four trials examined the effect of duration of therapy on relapse rates of Graves' hyperthyroidism. In one trial using the Titration regimen, longer duration therapy (18 months) had significantly fewer relapses (37% versus 58%) than six month therapy (Odds ratio (OR) 0.42, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.18 to 0.96). In one quasi-randomised trial using the Block-Replace regimen, there was no significant difference between the six and 12 month (relapses rates 41% versus 35%) arms of the study. Extending the duration of therapy to over 18 months was not associated with improved relapse rates (Peto OR 0.75, 95% CI 0.39 to 1.43). Twelve trials examined the effect of Block-Replace versus Titration regimen. The relapse rates were similar in both groups at 51% in the Block-Replace group and 54% in the Titration group (Peto OR 0.86, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.08). Participants reporting rashes (10% versus 5%) and withdrawing due to side effects (16% versus 9%) were significantly higher in the Block-Replace group compared to the Titration group respectively. Three studies considered the addition of thyroxine with continued low dose antithyroid therapy after initial therapy with antithyroid drugs. There was significant heterogeneity between the studies and the difference between the two groups were not significant (Odds ratio 0.58, 95% CI 0.05 to 6.21). Four studies considered the addition of thyroxine alone after initial therapy with antithyroid drugs. There was no significant difference in the relapse rates between the groups after 12 months follow-up with relapse rates being 31% (88/282) with thyroxine and 29% (82/284) with placebo (Peto OR 1.15, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.67).
Authors' conclusions: The evidence (based on four studies) suggests that the optimal duration of antithyroid drug therapy for the Titration regimen is 12 to 18 months. The six month Block-Replace regimen was found to be as effective as the 12 month treatment in one quasi-randomised study. The Titration (low dose) regimen had fewer adverse effects than the Block-Replace (high dose) regimen and was no less effective in trials (based on 12 trials) of equal duration. Continued thyroxine treatment following initial antithyroid therapy does not appear to provide any benefit in terms of recurrence of hyperthyroidism. The incidence of hypothyroidism was not reported and there were no deaths reported in the study populations.