Whether thyroid replacement therapy can trigger cardiac arrhythmias in patients with hypothyroidism is not known. In this prospective study, 24 h ambulatory electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring was used to assess the frequency of atrial and ventricular premature beats in 25 patients with hypothyroidism (5 men and 20 women, aged 56 +/- 3 years) before and 3.5 +/- 0.5 months (mean +/- SEM) after thyroid replacement therapy. Plasma thyroid-stimulating hormone was 73.6 +/- 12.3 and 3.1 +/- 0.6 microU/ml and free thyroxine index was 2.4 +/- 0.4 and 9.8 +/- 0.9 micrograms/100 ml at baseline and after thyroid replacement therapy, respectively. The frequency of ventricular premature beats was not affected by thyroid replacement therapy (from 273 +/- 221 at baseline to 352 +/- 235 beats/24 h after therapy), even in patients with frequent baseline arrhythmias. In contrast, the frequency of atrial premature beats was slightly increased after thyroid replacement therapy (from 47 +/- 17 to 279 +/- 197 beats/24 h), largely as a result of changes seen in three patients. No patient developed new onset of sustained ventricular or supraventricular arrhythmias. Average, basal and maximal heart rates during ECG monitoring increased significantly after thyroid replacement therapy (average 72 +/- 2 to 80 +/- 2; basal 64 +/- 2 to 70 +/- 2; maximal 114 +/- 3 to 130 +/- 3 beats/min, respectively, p less than 0.001). In conclusion, thyroid replacement therapy is safe in patients with common benign cardiac arrhythmias, and does not trigger an increase in arrhythmia frequency except in rare patients with baseline atrial premature beats. It is, however, associated with an increase in basal, average and maximal heart rates.