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Autoimmune thyroiditis; Hashimoto's thyroiditis
All patients with hypothyroidism are at serious risk for physical and mental problems.
Myxedema Coma. Myxedema coma is a rare, life-threatening complication of untreated hypothyroidism. Symptoms include a severe drop in body temperature (hypothermia), delirium, reduced lung function, slow heart rate, constipation, urine retention, seizures, stupor, fluid build-up, and finally coma. It is uncommon, but may develop in untreated patients subjected to severe stress, such as infection, surgery, or extreme cold. Certain drugs (such as sedatives, painkillers, narcotics, amiodarone, and lithium) may increase the risk. Emergency treatment is required. Mortality rates are high (30 - 60%) with the highest risks in older patients and those with persistent hypothermia or heart problems.
Suppurative Thyroiditis. Suppurative thyroiditis is a life-threatening infection of the thyroid gland. It is very rare, since the thyroid is normally resistant to infection. People with pre-existing thyroid diseases, such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis, however, may be at higher than average risk for suppurative thyroiditis. It often begins with an upper respiratory infection. Symptoms include fever, neck pain, rash, and trouble swallowing and speaking. Immediate treatment is critical.
Thyroid hormones, notably triiodothyronine (T3), affect the heart directly and indirectly. They are closely linked with heart rate and heart output. T3 provides particular benefits by relaxing the smooth muscles of blood vessels. This helps keep the blood vessels open so that blood flows smoothly through them.
Hypothyroidism is associated with:
The evidence for subclinical hypothyroidism and heart disease is mixed. Some studies suggest that subclinical hypothyroidism increases the risks for coronary artery disease and heart failure. The only randomized controlled trial dealing with subclinical hypothyroidism and heart disease evaluated only the thickness of atherosclerosis in the blood vessels and not whether patients actually had clinical heart disease. Many doctors believe that treatment of subclinical hypothyroidism will not help prevent or improve heart problems. More research is underway.
Depression. Depression is common in hypothyroidism and can be severe. Hypothyroidism should be considered as a possible cause of any chronic depression, particularly in older women.
Mental and Behavioral Impairment. Untreated hypothyroidism can, over time, cause mental and behavioral impairment and, eventually, even dementia. Whether treatment can completely reverse problems in memory and concentration is uncertain, although many doctors believe that only mental impairment in hypothyroidism that occurs at birth is permanent.
The following medical conditions have been associated with hypothyroidism. Often the causal relationship is not clear in such cases:
In premenopausal women, early symptoms of hypothyroidism can interfere with fertility. A history of miscarriage may be a sign of impending hypothyroidism. (A pregnant woman with hypothyroidism has a fourfold risk for miscarriage.) Studies suggest that even if thyroid levels are normal, women who have a history of miscarriages often have antithyroid antibodies during early pregnancy and are at risk for developing autoimmune thyroiditis over time.
Most women with overt hypothyroidism have menstrual cycle abnormalities and often fail to ovulate. Overt hypothyroidism in a pregnant woman can affect normal fetal development.
Women who have hypothyroidism near the time of delivery are in danger of developing high blood pressure and premature delivery. They are also prone to postpartum thyroiditis, which may be a contributor to postpartum depression.
Children of Untreated Mothers. Children born to untreated pregnant women with hypothyroidism are at risk for impaired mental performance, including attention problems and verbal impairment. Studies of children of women with subclinical hypothyroidism are less clear, with some reporting lower IQs in such children and others reporting no significant problems.
Effects of Hypothyroidism During Infancy. Transient hypothyroidism is common among premature infants. Although temporary, severe cases can cause difficulties in neurologic and mental development.
Infants born with permanent congenital (inborn) hypothyroidism need to receive treatment as soon as possible after birth to prevent mental retardation, stunted growth, and other aspects of abnormal development (a syndrome referred to as cretinism). Untreated infants can lose up to three to five IQ points per month during the first year. An early start of lifelong treatment avoids or minimizes this damage. Even with early treatment, however, mild problems in memory, attention, and mental processing may persist into adolescence and adulthood.
Effects of Childhood-Onset Hypothyroidism. If hypothyroidism develops in children older than 2 years, mental retardation is not a danger, but physical growth may be slowed and new teeth delayed. If treatment is delayed, adult growth could be affected. Even with treatment, some children with severe hypothyroidism may have attention problems and hyperactivity.
Two million Americans, mostly children, received x-ray treatments to the head or neck between 1920 - 1960 for acne, enlarged thymus gland, recurrent tonsillitis, or chronic ear infections. The risk of developing thyroid nodules and thyroid cancers is increased in these individuals, especially if they have hypothyroidism. Cancer can develop as late as 40 years after the original treatment. Everyone who has had head and neck radiation should have their thyroid glands examined regularly.
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