Importance: The benefit of thyroid hormone therapy for subclinical hypothyroidism is uncertain. New evidence from recent large randomized clinical trials warrants an update of previous meta-analyses.
Objective: To conduct a meta-analysis of the association of thyroid hormone therapy with quality of life and thyroid-related symptoms in adults with subclinical hypothyroidism.
Data sources: PubMed, EMBASE, ClinicalTrials.gov, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, CENTRAL, Emcare, and Academic Search Premier from inception until July 4, 2018.
Study selection: Randomized clinical trials that compared thyroid hormone therapy with placebo or no therapy in nonpregnant adults with subclinical hypothyroidism were eligible. Two reviewers independently evaluated eligibility based on titles and abstracts of all retrieved studies. Studies not excluded in this first step were independently assessed for inclusion after full-text evaluation by 2 reviewers.
Data extraction and synthesis: Two independent reviewers extracted data, assessed risk of bias (Cochrane risk-of-bias tool), and evaluated the quality of evidence (GRADE tool). For synthesis, differences in clinical scores were transformed (eg, quality of life) into standardized mean differences (SMDs; positive values indicate benefit of thyroid hormone therapy; 0.2, 0.5, and 0.8 correspond to small, moderate, and large effects, respectively). Random-effects models for meta-analyses were applied.
Main outcomes and measures: General quality of life and thyroid-related symptoms after a minimum follow-up of 3 months.
Results: Overall, 21 of 3088 initially identified publications met the inclusion criteria, with 2192 adults randomized. After treatment (range, 3-18 months), thyroid hormone therapy was associated with lowering the mean thyrotropin value into the normal reference range compared with placebo (range, 0.5-3.7 mIU/L vs 4.6 to 14.7 mIU/L) but was not associated with benefit regarding general quality of life (n = 796; SMD, -0.11; 95% CI, -0.25 to 0.03; I2=66.7%) or thyroid-related symptoms (n = 858; SMD, 0.01; 95% CI, -0.12 to 0.14; I2=0.0%). Overall, risk of bias was low and the quality of evidence assessed with the GRADE tool was judged moderate to high.
Conclusions and relevance: Among nonpregnant adults with subclinical hypothyroidism, the use of thyroid hormone therapy was not associated with improvements in general quality of life or thyroid-related symptoms. These findings do not support the routine use of thyroid hormone therapy in adults with subclinical hypothyroidism.