An underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism, can result in a serious condition called myxedema if left untreated.
The thyroid gland is responsible for producing important hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism and these hormones are important for all cells in the body to function properly, says WebMD. People who have an underactive thyroid
have symptoms such as heightened sensitivity to cold temperatures, weight gain, fatigue, and dry skin.
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Myxedema is a condition characterized by a thickening and swelling of the body’s soft tissues, says Dr. Erik D. Shraga, a staff physician at Mills-Peninsula Emergency Medical Associates, writes at Medscape
. If no treatment is administered, a rare but life-threatening condition called myxedema coma can result.
The Mayo Clinic explains that myxedema coma
is the result of longstanding, untreated, and severe hypothyroidism. While symptoms of hypothyroidism at early stages can be mild, myxedema is characterized by severe degrees of these symptoms such as extreme cold intolerance, profound lethargy, and even unconsciousness.
According to MedicineNet, patients
also can have hallucinations, confusion, and seizures. The heart slows down and cannot pump blood effectively, breathing slows, and fluid may begin to accumulate around the heart and lungs. A coma state can then be triggered by stress on the body or infection, and when this occurs, immediate emergency medical attention is required.
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Myxedema coma is easily prevented through the appropriate diagnosis and management of hypothyroidism. However, when emergency medical care is required to correct myxedema, it usually involves intravenous administration of thyroid hormones in large doses. Electrolyte solutions may also be given to correct severe dehydration. Because the body may be very cold, warming blankets are used to correct body temperature. Also, because blood sugar may be dangerously low, glucose supplements may be required.
Shraga points out that myxedema coma is most often seen in elderly females. Because the required amounts of thyroid hormone needed to reverse the myxedema coma is often a toxic amount for the body, even treatment can be dangerous. In fact, Shraga says that even with the most appropriate treatment, mortality rates can exceed 20 percent.
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