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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2013  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 72-77

Patient concerns in treated hypothyroidism: A cross-sectional evaluation


1 MBBS Students, MAIMRE, Agroha, India
2 PGIMS, Rohtak, India
3 National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India
4 Consultant, Endocrinology, BRIDE, Karnal, India

Date of Web Publication16-Apr-2013

Correspondence Address:
Yatan Pal Singh Balhara
National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi- 110 029
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0973-0354.110590

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  Abstract 

Background: Advances and improvements in the diagnosis of hypothyroidism have ensured the detection of a larger number of patients. The question that arises is that should we treat patients according to their Thyroid Stimulating Hormone level, which represents their "biochemical health" or according to their symptoms, which represent the health of the whole body? Aim: The current study aimed at exploring the concerns of patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Materials and Methods: The research was planned as a single center cross-sectional study at an endocrine center in a district headquarter (Karnal) in Haryana, India. One hundred consecutive hypothyroid patients attending the endocrine clinic were administered a pre-tested, structured questionnaire designed to capture personal, anthropometric, biochemical, and clinical data. Pearson's correlation coefficient was calculated to find out the correlations between continuous variables. Independent Student's t-test was used for in-between group comparisons. Results: The average duration of hypothyroidism in 100 subjects was 5.12 ± 6.87 years. All patients were on L-Thyroxine supplementation. The commonest dose used was 100 mcg/day (n = 35), followed by 125 mcg/day (n = 20). The most important patient rated concern was fatigue (3.39 ± 1.053), followed by neuropathic pain (3.00 ± 1.363) and permanence of medication (2.77 ± 1.377). Other important concerns from the patient perspective were lack of weight loss, lack of well-being and feeling of being sick. Conclusions: The results will help sensitize physicians and endocrinologists towards eliciting a patient sensitive history, while focusing on clinical and social aspects of relevance of the patient's age and clinical picture.

Keywords: Hypothyroidism, patient concern, thyroid


How to cite this article:
Bhutani S, Bhutani J, Balhara YP, Kalra S. Patient concerns in treated hypothyroidism: A cross-sectional evaluation. Thyroid Res Pract 2013;10:72-7

How to cite this URL:
Bhutani S, Bhutani J, Balhara YP, Kalra S. Patient concerns in treated hypothyroidism: A cross-sectional evaluation. Thyroid Res Pract [serial online] 2013 [cited 2019 Jun 15];10:72-7. Available from: http://www.thetrp.net/text.asp?2013/10/2/72/110590


  Introduction Top


Thyroid diseases are amongst the commonest endocrine disorders worldwide. India too, is no exception. It has been shown earlier that about 42 million people in India suffer from thyroid diseases, out of which hypothyroidism forms a formidable part. [1]

Advances and improvements in the diagnosis of hypothyroidism have ensured the detection of a larger number of patients. [2] The relatively easy diagnosis ensures treatment in a greater number of subjects. The treatment is supposedly simple, easy and cost-effective in many patients, as it involves only the replacement of thyroxine. This is in contrast to clinical challenges that endocrinologists of the previous generations faced, when they had to titrate desiccated thyroid extract or tri-iodo-thyroxine doses based on clinical symptoms or on unreliable laboratory assays. [3],[4]

Some patients after being diagnosed hypothyroidism and having received thyroxine replacement for the same continue to experience various hypothyroid symptoms. These are emotionally stressful and probably decrease work efficiency and quality of life. [5] The replacement of thyroxine in a biochemically appropriate dose, does not necessarily relieve the patient of these symptoms. Some patients complain of persistent psychological symptoms while some tend to experience physical symptoms as well. Others state that they just do not feel normal in spite of ongoing therapy. [6] This may be related to the underlying disease itself, adverse effect of drugs, financial and social issues, or other common causes like anemia, hyponatremia, Vitamin D deficiency, menopause, hypocalcemia, other endocrine disorders, celiac disease, physical unfitness, obstructive sleep apnea, etc. [7],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12] The role and importance of these symptoms in the treatment plans of hypothyroid subjects has not been researched extensively earlier, which creates a need for this study.

The question that arises is that should we treat patients according to their Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) level, which represents their "biochemical health" or according to their symptoms, which represent the health of the whole body?

Therefore, we suggest a patient oriented method of treating hypothyroidism, which could probably be the most promising method as it ensures a high-level of patient satisfaction and compliance. The current study aimed at exploring the concerns of patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism.


  Materials and Methods Top


The research was planned as a single center cross-sectional study at an endocrine center in a district headquarter (Karnal) in Haryana, India to assess concerns of patients being treated for hypothyroidism. It was performed as part of a larger project designed to study the clinical profile of patients with hypothyroidism.

After taking an informed consent, 100 consecutive hypothyroid patients attending the endocrine clinic in January 2012 were administered a pre-tested, structured questionnaire designed to capture personal, anthropometric, biochemical, and clinical data.

Further, twenty patient concerns were identified from focused history taking and interviewing conducted as a part of routine clinical care. These concerns were grouped into the following domains:

General Health related concerns

  • Lack of well-being
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of weight loss
  • Feeling of being sick
  • Swelling of feet
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Neck related symptoms and signs
  • Frequency of infections
  • Frequency of - Upper Respiratory Catarrah
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Neck swallowing
  • Gynecology related symptoms and signs
  • Menstrual disturbance
  • Infertility
  • Recurrent pregnancy loss
  • Vertical transmission
  • Drug related concerns
  • Permanence of medication
  • Side effects of medication
  • Interaction with other medications
  • Social concerns
  • Anxiety about marital prospects
  • Financial constraints
Following identification of the common concerns, patients were asked to prioritize their main concerns and rate their importance on a 5 point Likert Scale.

Anthropometric measurements

Each study participant was examined for height, weight, waist circumference (WC), and hip circumference (HC) without shoes or other footwear and with minimal clothing as per cardiovascular survey methods, [13] body mass index (BMI) was calculated by formula of weight in kg/height m 2 . Waist to Hip Ratio was calculated by WC/HC in centimeters. Value of BMI greater than or equal to 23 kg/m 2 was used to define overweight and greater than or equal to 25 kg/m 2 was used to define obese. Value of WC >90 cm in men and >80 cm in women was defined as abnormal. [14]

Metabolic measurements

Values of fasting plasma glucose (FPG), Glycated Hemoglobin and lipid profile were recorded for each patient enrolled. Blood pressure was measured in respective out-patient departments (OPDs) using a standard mercury sphygmomanometer under standard conditions as mentioned in cardiovascular survey methods. [13]

Diabetes mellitus (DM) was labeled if a subject was a known diabetic or on treatment with any oral glucose lowering drug or if FPG ≥126 mg/dL. [15] Dyslipidemia was defined according to National Cholesterol Education Program - Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines. [16] Hypertension was labeled if blood pressure ≥140 mmHg systolic blood pressure and ≥90 mmHg diastolic blood pressure or known to be hypertensive on treatment with any blood pressure. [17]

Statistical analysis

Analysis was carried out using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences Version 19.0. Pearson's correlation coefficient was calculated to find out the correlations between continuous variables. Independent Student's t-test was used for in-between group comparisons. For all the tests performed, results were considered statistically significant for P < 0.05.


  Results Top


The study cohort comprised of 100 hypothyroid patients, out of which 88 (88%) were females. The mean age was 42.14 ± 13.14 years.

Ninety nine participants, out of 100 under study were married and the average duration of hypothyroidism in 100 subjects was 5.12 ± 6.87 years. Thirty two had a current (within the past 1 month) euthyroid TSH Value (0.35-5.00 mIU/l), while 11 reported TSH <0.35 and 57 reported TSH ≥5.00. None of them had undergone thyroid surgery or iodine ablation.

The anthropometric and metabolic characteristics for the study cohort are given in [Table 1].
Table 1: Anthropometric and metabolic characteristics (n = 100)

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There was a wide spectrum of patients in terms of age, height, BMI, thyroid control, blood glucose, and lipid profiles. Twenty five men and women were diabetic, 52 had dyslipidemia.

All patients were on L-Thyroxine supplementation. The commonest dose used was 100 mcg/day (n = 35), followed by 125 mcg/day (n = 20). The mean total daily dose (TDD) was 101.17 ± 24.91 mcg/day. The mean dose per kg body weight (DBW)- was 1.452 ± 0.38 mcg/kg. No difference was noted in DBW in men and women (male: 1.29 ± 0.46, female: 1.47 ± 0.37). No difference was noted in the dose prescribed to well- controlled (1.44 mcg/kg/day) and poorly controlled (1.46 mcg/kg/day) patients. Frequency of administration was once daily in 95 patients, with five patients taking divided doses twice a day. When timing was assessed, the results were as follows, 91 patients took L-Thyroxine once daily, at least 30 min before breakfast. Two patients took their dose "2 h after breakfast and 2 h before lunch," while another two followed a bed time regime. Five patients preferred to take L-Thyroxine in doses divided between early morning and at bed time. Patients had requested change in early morning administration of L-Thyroxine because of uneasiness (n = 3/7), palpitation (n = 2/7) and increased hunger (n = 1/7) after ingesting the tablet. One patient could not remember the reason why she had shifted to a twice daily regime. In all cases, the symptoms subsided 1 time or frequency of intake was changed. The 7 patients (1 male, 6 females) those with atypical administration of L-Thyroxine, did not differ from the rest of the cohort with respect to age, gender, duration of hypothyroidism, co morbid condition or concomitant medication. These results have been reported earlier. [18]

The structured questionnaire listed 20 potential patient concerns, which were to be assessed by the patient on a 5 point Likert Scale. A higher score would mean a relatively greater degree of concern related to that particular symptom, sign or medico-social issue [Table 2].
Table 2: Patient concerns (n=100)

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The most important patient rated concern was fatigue (3.39 ± 1.053), followed by neuropathic pain (3.00 ± 1.363) and permanence of medication (2.77 ± 1.377). Other important concerns from the patient perspective were lack of weight loss, lack of well-being, and feeling of being sick. A domain based analysis of the patient concerns highlighted that the most important patient concern was general well-being. The drug concerns, neck related symptoms and signs, social concerns and gynecology related symptoms and signs were secondary to it.

A bivariate analysis of the data revealed that the duration of hypothyroidism affected the patient concerns of permanent medicine, difficulty in swallowing and swelling of feet, i.e., as the duration of hypothyroidism increased the frequency of these concerns increased [Table 3]. For the rest of the patient concerns the analysis was not statistically significant.
Table 3: Duration of hypothyroidism and patient concerns

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When analysis was done separately for well controlled (TSH ≤5 mIU/mL; n = 43) and poorly controlled (TSH >5 mIU/mL; n = 57) patients, a different picture occurred. Fatigue, feeling of being sick and lack of well-being were rated higher by the poorly controlled group. Need for permanent medication and lack of weight loss were sources of relatively greater concern for the well-controlled group [Table 4]. The rest of the patient concerns did not relate significantly to the Last TSH Value.
Table 4: Patient concerns in poorly and well controlled subjects (n = 100)

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  Discussion Top


A patient-centered approach to management of disease, especially chronic disease, has long been advocated. The strongest call for this approach of treatment is in the field of DM, where Diabetes Self-Management and Education is an integral part of therapy. [19] Similar calls have also been made for shared decision making as well as for empowerment of patients with hypothyroidism. [20],[21]

The first step towards patient satisfaction and empowerment in hypothyroidism is an assessment of patient concern. Endocrinologists are aware of the fact that their hypothyroid patients are unhappy with the treatment being provided to them. Various clinical and biochemical explanations have been preferred for this. [5] However, no work has been performed in India, to the best of our knowledge, to assess and classify specific hypothyroid patient concerns or to facilitate appropriate history taking by physicians when dealing with hypothyroidism. This study provides a cross-sectional analysis of hypothyroid patients attending an endocrine clinic in North India, while trying to focus on their concerns.

The prevalence of DM and dyslipidemia in this cohort was 25% and 52% respectively. This is much more than the earlier reports in which prevalence of hypothyroidism in patients with hypercholesterolemia was 4.3% and diabetes was 5.7%. [22],[23] This difference could exist due to a selection bias, as the current study reveals values from an endocrine clinic, while the older ones may present data from an internal medicine outpatient department.

The main patient concerns were fatigue, followed by neuropathic pain and permanence of medication. In uncontrolled patients, fatigue, feeling of being sick and lack of well-being were ranked higher, while controlled patients tended to rate need for permanent medication and lack of weight loss, higher. Duration of hypothyroidism did have an effect on patient concerns. As the duration of hypothyroidism increased the patient concern of permanent medicine, difficulty in swallowing and swelling of feet increased.

On a domain based analysis, neck related and gynecological signs and symptoms were concerns of less importance, contrary to the expectation of the authors.

Further, the classification of patient concerns into various domains represents a simple tool for health-care providers to take a detailed, complete history in hypothyroid patients. It helps patients verbalize their concerns and symptoms in an easily understandable manner and also the clinicians by making history taking easier and precise. This contributes to the process of patient empowerment, equipoise, and shared decision making. Hopefully, effective use of this strategy will improve patient satisfaction and therapeutic outcomes in patients with hypothyroidism.

This clinical paradox of symptoms with persistent patient concerns, in spite of "optimal" thyroxine dosage, can be explained on the basis of the concept of tissue hypothyroidism or hypothyroidism at cellular level. [24] Another explanation could be that diurnal variation in TSH secretion may cause false overestimation of thyroid status. This can happen if TSH levels are measured during early afternoon, when they are at their lowest. [25] Unsatisfactory weight loss, or unwanted weight gain during course of therapy may cause psychological symptoms. [26] Other causes of such symptoms include Vitamin D deficiency, celiac disease, menopause, anemia, obstructive sleep apnea, hyponatremia, hypocalcemia, other endocrine disorders, physical unfitness etc. [7],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12]


  Conclusions Top


While thyroxine cannot be replaced in the management of hypothyroidism, the definition of "optimal thyroxine replacement" is yet not clear. Some authors use the clinical profiling of patients to regulate the thyroxine dosage, [27] while others advise a combination of TSH measurement and clinical evaluation for the same. [28]

This study has tried to analyze patient concerns and marks a step forward in trying to promote patient centered management in hypothyroidism. The results will help sensitize physicians and endocrinologists towards eliciting a patient sensitive history, while focusing on clinical and social aspects of relevance of the patient's age and clinical picture.

This cross-sectional study was initially designed as a clinical audit, to assess patient concerns, and management trends in hypothyroid patients. The small sample size, uni-centric design and lack of controls are limiting factors of the study. No gender based analysis was performed due to less number of male patients. Detailed investigations for surrogate markers of hypothyroidism were not carried out. However, we feel that the results are applicable to the vast majority of hypothyroid patients and reflect the clinical picture seen in endocrine clinics across the world.


  Acknowledgments Top


We acknowledge the contribution of Dr. J. K. Bhutani in providing patients for data collection for this study.

 
  References Top

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27.Skinner GR, Thomas R, Taylor M, Sellarajah M, Bolt S, Krett S, et al. Thyroxine should be tried in clinically hypothyroid but biochemically euthyroid patients. BMJ 1997;314:1764.  Back to cited text no. 27
    
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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]



 

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