The thyroid gland, located at the front part of the neck, is responsible for making substances called thyroid hormones that are important for all body cells to work properly.
In certain conditions, the thyroid becomes underactive and produces fewer amounts of its hormones, a situation called hypothyroidism. People with hypothyroidism have problems that reflect underactivity of the organs of the body, resulting in symptoms such as fatigue, feeling cold, weight gain, dry skin, and sleepiness. When the levels of thyroid hormones become very low, the symptoms get worse and can result in a serious condition called myxedema coma. Myxedema coma is a rare but life-threatening condition. People with hypothyroidism who are in or near a coma should be taken to an emergency department immediately.
First described by Sir Robert Graves in the early 19th century, Graves' disease is one of the most common of all thyroid problems.
It is also the leading cause of hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland produces excessive hormones.
Once the disorder has been correctly diagnosed, it is quite easy to treat. In some cases, Graves' disease goes into remission or disappears completely after several months or years. Left untreated, however, it can lead to serious complications -- even...
Drugs, such as phenothiazines, amiodarone, lithium, and tranquilizers, and prolonged iodide use
Not taking prescribed thyroid medications
Myxedema Coma Symptoms
Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include the following:
Low body temperature
Swelling of the body
People who have myxedema coma are in or near a coma and not able to function normally. They require emergency care.
When to Seek Medical Care
People who have hypothyroidism and develop fever, changes in behavior or mental status, shortness of breath, or increased swelling of the hands and feet should be taken to an emergency department.
Exams and Tests
Blood tests are performed to check blood cell count, electrolytes, sugar, and thyroid hormone levels. Tests are also performed to evaluate how the liver and adrenal glands are functioning.
Blood gases are evaluated to check for oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
An ECG of the heart is performed to check for disturbances in the activity of the heart.
Additional tests are performed at the discretion of the treating doctor.
Myxedema Coma Treatment Self-Care at Home
If you have hypothyroidism, be alert to your condition.
Call your doctor if you are concerned.
Check your blood sugar level if you are diabetic.
Warm yourself up with a warm blanket and seek help.
Take your prescribed thyroid medication if you missed them earlier.
People with myxedema coma are in a coma or nearly in a coma. They are not able to function normally. Friends or family members should take them to an emergency department immediately. Friends or family members should not give the person in myxedema coma any thyroid medication before taking him or her to the emergency department. If adrenal insufficiency is present, then administration of thyroxin (in the thyroid medication) will provoke an adrenal crisis.
Electrolytes replacement as necessary
Thyroid hormones are usually administered through a vein (intravenously or IV) to quickly correct the low thyroid hormone blood level. (Oral thyroid hormone is usually not used for severe myxedema because it may take days or weeks to obtain the proper blood level.)
Cortisol or other adrenal cortical hormone intravenously
Warming blanket if body temperature is low
Glucose supplements if the blood sugar level is low