Long-term follow-up of patients with hyperthyroidism due to Graves' disease treated with methimazole. Comparison of usual treatment schedule with drug discontinuation vs continuous treatment with low methimazole doses: a retrospective study

J Endocrinol Invest. 2008 Oct;31(10):866-72. doi: 10.1007/BF03346433.


Antithyroid drugs may be proposed as the firstline therapy for hyperthyroidism due to Graves' disease since some patients undergo prolonged remission after drug withdrawal. On the other hand, some studies, though controversial, indicated that methimazole (MMI) has some immunomodulating activity. We retrospectively analyzed 384 consecutive patients newly diagnosed with Graves' disease in the years 1990-2002 to ascertain whether long-term therapy with low doses of MMI may prevent relapse of thyrotoxicosis. Two hundred and forty-nine patients were included in our study. The date of reduction of MMI dose to 5 mg/day was considered time 0 for survival analysis. In 121 MMI was discontinued in less than 15 months after time 0 (group D), while in the remaining 128 a daily MMI 2.5-5 mg dose was maintained (group M). One hundred and thirty-five patients were excluded for inadequate response to MMI, relapse of thyrotoxicosis that could be related to an improper withdrawal or reduction of MMI, inadequate or too short followup, iodide contamination, steroid or interferon therapy, pregnancy or post-partum. D and M groups did not differ for clinical and hormonal parameters except age, which was lower in D (p=0.019). Age > vs < 35 yr was relevant in survival analysis; therefore patients were divided in 2 groups according to this age cut-off. In younger patients relapse of thyrotoxicosis occurred in 15 patients of group D 2.4-39.6 months (median 19.0) after time 0, and 8 M after 5.9-40.0 (21.3) months, while 14 D and 5 M maintained euthyroidism until the end of the observation after 31.8-95.3 (56.6) months and 30.4-62.1 (46.5) months, respectively. Survival analysis indicated that the risk of relapse was similar in group D and M. In older patients relapse of thyrotoxicosis occurred in 40 patients of group D after 8.2-65.8 (25.4) months and 29 M after 5.8-62.5 (22.4) months, while 52 D and 86 M maintained euthyroidism until the end of the observation, 20.1-168.0 (46.7) months and 24.1-117.4 (53.4) months respectively. Survival analysis indicated that the risk of relapse was increased in group D. Therefore long-term treatment with low doses of MMI seems to prevent relapse in Graves' disease in patients above 35 yr of age. This should be confirmed in a prospective study.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antithyroid Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Graves Disease / complications
  • Graves Disease / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hyperthyroidism / drug therapy*
  • Hyperthyroidism / etiology
  • Immunoglobulins, Thyroid-Stimulating / analysis
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Methimazole / administration & dosage*
  • Methimazole / adverse effects
  • Middle Aged
  • Recurrence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome
  • Thyrotropin / blood
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antithyroid Agents
  • Immunoglobulins, Thyroid-Stimulating
  • thyrotropin-binding inhibitory immunoglobulin
  • Methimazole
  • Thyrotropin