Myxedema: Unraveling A Serious Symptom of Untreated Hypothyroidism
When I suffered from severe untreated hypothyroidism, I had myxedema and it was horrifying and felt awful (scroll down to see my before and after photos). The sense of bloat and swelling in my limbs was beyond uncomfortable. Every time I bent my knee/leg - it would feel as though I drank an entire bottle of soy sauce or MSG. One of the ways myxedema is self-discoverable is by visual assessment - not being able to pinch a minuscule bit of skin on the outside of your arms, near your shoulders. Instead, one is only able to pinch a thick, large portion of skin. This is one indicator. The wonderful news is - once you have properly solved your thyroid issues (whether through natural means or thyroid hormone replacement therapy)…it disappears! RELIEF.
Below in the before photo on the left - despite smiling for camera, I was miserably hypothyroid at my brothers wedding. I had very severe untreated hypothyroidism and the body you are seeing in that photo - was a body that worked out 2 hours a day and restricted calories (ya can't tell, can you?! It looks like a body that didn't exercise at all). No amount of "efforting" can outwit untreated hypothyroidism's ignition of insidious weight gain. As you can see in the after photo on the right - the myxedema swelling and bloat is gone. I was about 32 years old in the before photo, and 42 years old in the after photo. Which one looks healthier to you? It's obvious. You can SEE the hypothyroidism and myxedema in the before photo.
What is Myxedema?
Myxedema refers to the accumulation of mucopolysaccharides, a type of complex carbohydrate, in the skin and other tissues. This accumulation leads to a characteristic swelling, particularly in the face, hands, and feet. Myxedema issues are most commonly associated with severe, untreated hypothyroidism, here are a few ways it affects people with untreated thyroid disorders:
- Myxedema Coma: This is a rare and life-threatening complication of untreated hypothyroidism, characterized by extreme weakness, hypothermia, and a decreased level of consciousness. It requires immediate medical attention.
- Pretibial Myxedema: This is a rare skin condition associated with Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism. Pretibial myxedema is characterized by thickened, swollen skin on the front of the lower legs.
- Myxedema Ascites: This rare condition is characterized by an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity due to severe hypothyroidism. It can lead to abdominal swelling and discomfort.
- Hypothyroidism secondary to pituitary or hypothalamic disorders: In some cases, myxedema can be caused by problems with the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus, which are responsible for regulating thyroid hormone production.
Myxedema can also develop as a side effect of certain medications or medical treatments, such as lithium therapy, amiodarone, or radiation therapy to the neck area.
Physiological Changes During Myxedema
When myxedema has invaded your life, several physiological changes take place in the body. These include:
- Accumulation of Mucopolysaccharides: As mentioned earlier, myxedema is characterized by an abnormal buildup of mucopolysaccharides in various tissues. These complex carbohydrates are hydrophilic, meaning they attract water. The increased water content in the skin and other tissues leads to the characteristic swelling seen in myxedema.
- Reduced Metabolism: Hypothyroidism results in a reduced metabolic rate, which means the body's cells are not efficiently using energy. This can cause fatigue, weight gain, and increased sensitivity to cold temperatures.
- Altered Protein Metabolism: In hypothyroidism, the body's protein metabolism is impaired. This can lead to increased protein breakdown and a decrease in protein synthesis. As a result, the body struggles to maintain and repair tissues, which can exacerbate the symptoms of myxedema.
- Fluid Retention: Hypothyroidism can cause a decrease in the production of certain proteins that help regulate fluid balance in the body. This can result in fluid retention, which further contributes to the swelling and puffiness associated with myxedema.
Why Untreated Hypothyroidism Can Cause Myxedema
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland fails to produce sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone, which plays a crucial role in regulating the body's metabolism. If left untreated, hypothyroidism can progress to a more severe form called myxedema, which can be life-threatening. The reasons behind this progression include:
- Chronic Hormone Deficiency: When hypothyroidism is left untreated, the body remains deprived of the essential thyroid hormones it needs to function properly. This chronic deficiency can lead to the development of myxedema.
- Compromised Tissue Repair and Maintenance: As previously mentioned, untreated hypothyroidism results in impaired protein metabolism. This, in turn, affects the body's ability to maintain and repair tissues, leading to the accumulation of mucopolysaccharides and the development of myxedema.
- Prolonged Fluid Retention: The fluid retention associated with hypothyroidism can become more severe over time, particularly if the condition remains untreated. This can further contribute to the development of myxedema.
Myxedema is a serious and potentially life-threatening symptom of untreated hypothyroidism. It is essential to understand the physiological changes that occur during myxedema and the reasons behind its development to emphasize the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of hypothyroidism.
If you suspect that you or someone you know may have hypothyroidism or myxedema, they must motivate you to get it treated as soon as possible.
About the author: Elle Russ is the #1 bestselling author of The Paleo Thyroid Solution, a world-renowned thyroid expert, and master coach. Learn about her The Ultimate Thyroid Course.
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