OBJECTIVE: To investigate CT appearance and size of the thymus in association with participant characteristics.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: 2540 supposedly healthy participants (mean age 58.9 years, 51 % female) were evaluated for the CT appearance of thymic glands with four-point scores (according to the ratio of fat and soft tissue), size and morphology. These were correlated with participants' age, sex, BMI and smoking history.
RESULTS: Of 2540 participants, 1869 (74 %) showed complete fatty replacement of the thymus (Score 0), 463 (18 %) predominantly fatty attenuation (Score 1), 172 (7 %) half fatty and half soft-tissue attenuation (Score 2) and 36 (1 %) solid thymic gland with predominantly soft-tissue attenuation (Score 3). Female participants showed less fatty degeneration of the thymus with higher thymic scores within age 40-69 years (P < 0.001). Participants with lower thymic scores showed higher BMI (P < 0.001) and were more likely to be former smokers (P < 0.001) with higher pack-years (P = 0.04).
CONCLUSIONS: Visual assessment with four-point thymic scores revealed a sex difference in the fatty degeneration of the thymus with age. Women show significantly higher thymic scores, suggesting less fat content of the thymus, during age 40-69 years. Cigarette smoking and high BMI are associated with advanced fatty replacement of the thymus.
KEY POINTS: 74% of participants (mean age 58.9 years) demonstrated complete fatty thymus. Women show less fatty thymus compared to men at ages 40-69 years. Smoking and high BMI are associated with advanced fatty degeneration in thymus.