We have previously observed thyroid dysfunction, i.e. atypical thyroiditis (painless thyrotoxicosis associated with non-thyroidal illness syndrome), in patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 disease (Covid-19). This study aimed to analyse the evolution of thyroid dysfunction over time.
One hundred eighty-three consecutive patients hospitalised for severe Covid-19 without known thyroid history were studied at hospital admission (baseline). Survivors were offered 12-month longitudinal follow-up including assessment of thyroid function, autoantibodies and ultrasound scan (US). Patients showing US focal hypoechoic areas suggestive of thyroiditis (focal hypoechogenicity) also underwent thyroid 99mTc or 123I uptake scan.
At baseline, after excluding from TSH analysis, 63 out of 183 (34%) Covid-19 patients commenced on steroids before hospitalisation, and 12 (10%) showed atypical thyroiditis. Follow-up of 75 patients showed normalisation of thyroid function and inflammatory markers and no increased prevalence of detectable thyroid autoantibodies. Baseline US (available in 65 patients) showed focal hypoechogenicity in 28% of patients, of whom 82% had reduced thyroid 99mTc/123I uptake. The presence of focal hypoechogenicity was associated with baseline low TSH (P = 0.034), high free-thyroxine (FT4) (P = 0.018) and high interleukin-6 (IL6) (P = 0.016). Focal hypoechogenicity persisted after 6 and 12 months in 87% and 50% patients, respectively, but reduced in size. After 9 months, thyroid 99mTc/123I uptake partially recovered from baseline (+28%) but was still reduced in 67% patients.
Severe Covid-19 induces mild transient thyroid dysfunction correlating with disease severity. Focal hypoechogenicity, associated with baseline high FT4, IL6 and low TSH, does not seem to be related to thyroid autoimmunity and may persist after 1 year although decreasing in size. Long-term consequences seem unlikely.