Purpose: This systematic review describes the state of the art of the impact of hypothyroidism on exercise tolerance and physical performance capacity in untreated and treated patients with hypothyroidism.
Method: A systematic computer-aided search was conducted using biomedical databases. Relevant studies in English, German, and Dutch, published from the earliest date of each database up to December 2012, were identified.
Results: Out of 116 studies, a total of 38 studies with 1,379 patients fulfilled the inclusion criteria. These studies emphasize the multifactorial causes of exercise intolerance in untreated patients by the impact of limitations in different functional systems, with cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary, musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, and cellular metabolic systems acting in concert. Moreover, the studies affirm that exercise intolerance in patients is not always reversible during adequate hormone replacement therapy. As a consequence, despite a defined euthyroid status, there remains a significant group of treated patients with persistent complaints related to exercise intolerance who are suffering from limitations in daily and sport activities, as well as an impaired quality of life. An explanation for this phenomenon is lacking. Only 2 studies investigated the effects of a physical training program, and they showed inconsistent effects on the performance capacity in untreated patients with subclinical hypothyroidism.
Conclusions: A limited body of knowledge exists concerning exercise tolerance in treated patients with hypothyroidism, and there is an insufficient amount of quantitative studies on the effects of a physical training program. To enhance exercise and sports participation for this specific group, more research in this forgotten area is warranted.
Keywords: physical activity; physical performance capacity; quality of life; thyroid dysfunction.