What is myxedema?

Myxedema is a condition marked by thickening and swelling of the skin caused by insufficient production of thyroid hormones by the thyroid gland. The function of thyroid hormones is to regulate your metabolism. Myxedema is associated with other symptoms of underactive thyroid, also called hypothyroidism, including lethargy, weight gain, fatigue, depression, and cold sensitivity, among others.

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Hypothyroidism is more common in women, especially those over the age of 50, and can be caused by a viral infection, certain medications, radiation exposure, autoimmune disease, or inherited or congenital disorders. Myxedema is caused by hypothyroidism and occurs more frequently when hypothyroidism is left untreated. Your health care professional can order simple blood tests to determine whether you have hypothyroidism, which can lead to myxedema.

Depending on the cause, myxedema can be treated with thyroid replacement hormones. These medications are effective in eliminating the symptoms that accompany myxedema and hypothyroidism. If you are prescribed thyroid replacement medications, you will probably need to take them for the rest of your life. Left untreated, myxedema can have serious or, rarely, life-threatening complications.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, including very low body temperature, difficulty breathing, low blood sugar, or difficulty thinking clearly, or if you are being treated for hypothyroidism and experience chest pain or heart palpitations.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for myxedema but have mild symptoms that recur or are persistent.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of myxedema?

Symptoms of myxedema include thickening of the skin and other symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, including fatigue, weight gain, depression, dry skin, and brittle hair, among others. Skin thickening or swelling associated with myxedema is often described as nonpitting edema. In other words, if you press on the skin of the affected area and then remove your finger, you will not see an imprint.... Read more about myxedemasymptoms

CAUSES

What causes myxedema?

Myxedema is caused by an accumulation of tissue products, such as glycosaminoglycans, in the skin. Myxedema is almost always a result of hypothyroidism. Specific causes of hypothyroidism that can lead to myxedema include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, thyroidectomy (surgical removal of the thyroid), and Graves’ disease.... Read more about myxedemacauses

TREATMENTS

How is myxedema treated?

Myxedema is most often addressed by treating the underlying cause of hypothyroidism that led to the thickening and coarseness of the skin. Medication to replace the reduced thyroid hormones is the most common treatment, and when dosed appropriately, may halt the progression of myxedema.... Read more about myxedematreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Skin, Hair and Nails, Depression


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