Raised serum TSH levels in patients with morbid obesity: Is it enough to diagnose subclinical hypothyroidism?

Mario Rotondi, Paola Leporati, Antonella La Manna, Barbara Pirali, Teresa Mondello, Rodolfo Fonter, Flavia Magri, Luca Chiovato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Morbid obesity (body mass index (BMI)≥40 kg/m2) is associated with thyroid function disturbances, with a high rate of subclinical hypothyroidism (SH) being the most consistently reported. We evaluated the circulating thyroid function parameters in morbid obese patients and related the results to the presence of circulating thyroid antibodies (Thyr-Ab). Design and methods: Morbid obese patients were consecutively enrolled (n=350). Two control groups were used: control group (CG)1, healthy normo-weight subjects (n=50); CG2, normo-weight patients with SH (n=56) matched for TSH with the obese patients with SH. Serum levels of free triiodothyronine (FT3), free thyroxine (FT4), TSH, antithyroglobulin antibodies, and antithyroperoxidase antibodies were measured in all patients. Results: i) Compared with CG1, obese patients having thyroid function parameters in the normal range and negative Thyr-Ab showed significantly higher serum TSH and lower free thyroid hormones levels, but a similar FT4/FT3 ratio; ii) SH was recorded in 13.7% obese patients; iii) compared with CG2, obese patients with untreated SH had a significantly lower rate of positive Thyr-Ab (32.1 vs 66.1%; P≤0.005); iv) no gender prevalence was observed in SH obese patients with negative Thyr-Ab; and v) the comparison of the untreated SH patients (obese and normo-weight) with CG1 demonstrated that in SH obese subjects, unlike normo-weight SH patients, the FT3 levels were significantly lower. This resulted in a normal FT4/FT3 ratio in SH obese patients. Conclusion: Thyroid autoimmunity is not a major cause sustaining the high rate of SH in morbid obese patients. In these patients, the diagnosis of SH itself, as assessed by a raised TSH alone, appears questionable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-408
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean Journal of Endocrinology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Medicine(all)


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