Hypothyroidism effects can be serious if the disease is left untreated, resulting in long-term complications.
When the thyroid releases insufficient amounts of thyroid hormones, hypothyroidism results. While the symptoms can be treated with daily doses of medication, it may or may not worsen throughout life, according to the American Thyroid Association
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If a patient does not receive treatment, however, a range of problems from birth defects to worsening of mental health may occur, Endocrine Web reports
. Over time, hypothyroidism does become more serious the longer it is left untreated.
Since thyroid hormones are necessary for brain development, pregnant women who do not receive treatment have a higher risk of their child developing birth defects. Newborns do, however, receive a shortened thyroid function test, and this problem can be addressed so that most likely the baby will grow up fine, according to Endocrine Web. On the flip side, the disease can lead to infertility in women by affecting ovulation.
Hypothyroidism may also affects the patient’s physical appearance as a goiter, a bulge on the neck, and may result due to overexertion of the thyroid gland. This may complicate a person’s ability to swallow or breathe.
Inside the body, hypothyroidism increases the amount LDL “bad” cholesterol, putting the individual at a greater risk of hardened arteries, known as atherosclerosis, which can lead to other cardiovascular illnesses, Endocrine Web states. Fluid around the heart, known as a pericardial effusion, may build up as well. An enlarged heart is also a possible long-term effect, according to Mayo Clinic
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Since hypothyroidism slows the body, some patients develop depression that worsens with the disease, according to Endocrine Web. Studies have linked the dysfunction to decreases in mental function, too. This includes loss of memory.
The untreated disease may also lead to damage of the nerves that carry messages between the body and brain called peripheral nerves. Symptoms of this include pain, numbness, and tingling. Sometimes patients feel weak or lose control of their muscles, Mayo Clinic states
In the most extreme case, if hypothyroidism is left untreated for a long time, myxedema can occur. This is when the body slows to such a state that it drops into a coma; it is fatal. Another symptom is loss of cold intolerance. Almost all patients, however, seek out treatment before this point, Endocrine Web notes.
That National Center for Biotechnological Information reports
some studies — not their own — have linked medicines for treating thyroid disease to an increased risk for cancer, though it suggests the rise may result from the disease itself.
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