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What is a Myxedema Coma?

By Nat Robinson
Updated May 17, 2024
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A myxedema coma is a loss or reduction of brain function and is a serious complication of hypothyroidism. One of the main purposes of the thyroid gland is to produce adequate amounts of thyroid hormone. When the production of thyroid hormones are extremely low, a condition known as hypothyroidism occurs. The results of this under-active thyroid disease can alternate from being mild to very serious. A myxedema coma is among the most serious results of hypothyroidism.

There are incidences where a person will go into a myxedema coma without a previous history of a thyroid disorder. These incidences are quite rare. In most cases, a person will have a known case of a thyroid-related condition, with the most common one being hypothyroidism. Additionally, a recent surgery, particularly on the thyroid gland, a cardiovascular condition or recent infection can be other precursors for this event to take place.

The symptoms leading up to a myxedema coma may come on suddenly. The person may suffer a loss of energy and become increasingly weak. There may also be a drastic drop in blood pressure and body temperature. Some people may become confused and begin to hallucinate. Breathing difficulties may be some of the last and most severe symptoms and the person may faint as a result of the difficulties.

In order to make an accurate diagnosis of a myxedema coma, certain medical tests may be given. A blood test will generally be done to analyze the levels of thyroid hormone present in the body. The test may also be used to check the functioning of other organs in the body. A cardiovascular test such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) may be used to test the function of the heart. There may also be tests conducted to check brain function.

A myxedema coma is a medical emergency. It has the potential to become life-threatening, therefore, medical treatment is needed at once. Doctors may do a variety of things to treat a person in this state. Antibiotics may be given to prevent the onset of an infection. Most people will also promptly receive intravenous fluids and medications. Thyroid hormones may be delivered intravenously to quickly raise significantly low thyroid hormone levels.

To lower the chances of going into a myxedema coma, individuals with hypothyroidism should take their medication as prescribed. It is important to never miss a dose, as doing so could cause an onset of physical symptoms. If a person has a reason to believe he or she may have hypothyroidism, an appointment should be scheduled with a physician. The doctor can order the necessary tests and plan a course of treatment if needed. Many people with a thyroid disorder will frequently undergo blood tests, which will be done to ensure thyroid hormone levels remain in a safe range.

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