Researchers discover thyroid, heart failure connection

Researchers discover thyroid, heart failure connection Researchers at The University of South Dakota School of Medicine believe they are on the verge of changing the way physicians view the treatment of heart disease.

Along with several colleagues, A. Martin Gerdes, director of the School of Medicine's Cardiovascular Research Institute in Sioux Falls, has recently published groundbreaking research in a nationally recognized medical journal for establishing a connection between low functioning thyroid glands and the development of heart disease. Although treatment on human patients may be some time away, the team is excited at the prospect of standing on the cutting edge in a new trend in the field of heart medicine research.

The study, titled "Thyroid Hormones Induce Unique and Potentially Beneficial Changes in Cardiac Myocyte Shape in Hypertensive Rats Near Heart Failure," appears in the May issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, published by the American Physiological Society. During the course of his study, Gerdes and his colleagues established that not only can a poorly functioning thyroid contribute to congestive heart failure; it also indicates a reduced likelihood of recovery, and an increased chance of death.

This study builds upon earlier work at the institute which showed researchers that whatever leads to heart failure is always preceded by changes in the shape heart cells. As pressure within the heart increases, stress causes the heart cells to stretch and flatten, and thereby weaken. The new study demonstrates that a moderate dose of thyroid hormones (TH) over 30 days "normalizes" the shape of the cardiac cells (myocytes) and reduces stress on the heart's wall nearly 40 percent.

The research team was pleased not only because the hormone therapy appeared to have a positive effect upon the distorted heart cells, but also because this research involves a new treatment approach.

"This is the first study to look at the implications of thyroid hormone therapy on hypertensive heart failure," Gerdes said.

Based on these encouraging findings, the authors of the paper feel that this new avenue of treatment warrants further study. However, Gerdes warned since "this is the first study to disclose these positive effects with TH, we don't yet have enough information to do this intelligently in humans. Care should be taken in administering TH to humans for heart disease since there is so little information available from animal studies," Gerdes said.

However, Gerdes was optimistic that the successes he and his research team have enjoyed will someday be applied to the treatment of heart disease in humans.

"We're really just looking at the tip of the iceberg here, but we believe this could be the beginning of the next big thing in the treatment of heart disease," Gerdes said.

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