What is Myxedema?
This is a very difficult skin condition. If you have hypothyroidism, which is when your thyroid gland is not making enough of the thyroid hormone, the condition can progress to even more severe symptoms. Hypothyroidism is also referred to as an under active thyroid. Myxedema is also known by several other names including Graves’ Dermopathy. If it part of this syndrome it is usually associated with a high level of thyroid hormones, or hyperthyroidism. There are people who are more at risk for getting this medical condition and some of these people at risk are:
- People who are over the age of fifty and are female
- If they already have or had hypothyroidism
- If they have an autoimmune disorder
With myxedema there are skin symptoms that will usually be concurrently with the other symptoms of low thyroid hormones. Some of the skin symptoms would include:
- Thickening of your skin which is often called non-pitting edema. This means that if you press on the affected area and when you move the finger there will not be an imprint.
- Your skin may be coarser
- You could have water retention
- Your skin could feel dryer than usual
- You may have an orange or yellow discoloration to your skin
- You may have areas under your skin that are filled with a “jelly-like” material and cause swelling
- There could be changes in your facial appearances such as swollen lips, thicker nose, and puffiness around your eyes.
You may only notice these symptoms in your legs but it usually affects your whole body, especially around your elbows, palms of your hands, soles of your feet, and knees.
A person with myxedema may also notice:
- You may have mental dullness
- You may feel lethargic
Serious or rare symptoms
- A decrease of smell or taste
- Having a fullness in your neck called a goiter
- Thinning of your hair including your eyebrows
- Speech that is slower than normal
Serious symptoms that could indicate a condition that is life-threatening:
- A change in your level of alertness or consciousness such as passing out
- Having a decrease in the rate of your breathing or having difficulty in breathing
- Having low blood sugar
- Having a low body temperature
The symptoms of hypothyroidism that usually go along with myxedema can include:
- Gaining weight
- Feeling depressed
- Having brittle hair, bald patches
- Aches and pain in your muscles or joints
- Confusion or memory loss
- Sensitivity to the cold increases
- Pale skin
One cause of myxedema is tissue products that have accumulated in your skin. It is most always of a patient having hypothyroidism in which the thyroid levels have been low for a long period of time. Some hypothyroidism causes that can cause myxedema are:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis which causes your body to treat the thyroid hormones as a foreign body and is an autoimmune condition.
- Surgically removing your thyroid called thyroidectomy.
- Graves’ disease which rarely causes Myxedema of your shins and knees.
Viral-associated hypothyroidism may also cause myxedema.
The physician will take a complete medical history and do a physical examination. Usually every patient that has myxedema has hypothyroidism but on the other hand, every patient who has hypothyroidism will have myxedema so a physician can look at the condition of the patient’s skin for symptoms of this condition. In order to know what treatment to use the physician will normally do blood tests to see what their thyroid hormone level is. The physician may also do tests to see how well your thyroid is functioning.
The standard treatment for myxedema is to treat the underlying cause which is usually hypothyroidism. The physician will prescribe medication to help replace the thyroid hormones and increase the level so the thyroid gland will function properly. When the physician gets the dosage right it can stop the progression of this condition. In most cases of hypothyroidism the physician will use thyroid hormone replacement therapy. The medication will usually have to be taken for your entire life.
The thyroid hormone replacements that the physician prescribes are levothyroxine. Some of these types of medications include Levotabs, Synthroid or Levoxyl. Your physician will do periodic blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels and thyroid function to see if they need to increase or decrease your medication or if another method of treatment needs to be selected.
Even though treating the cause of myxedema is the most important part of the treatment your physician will also treat the symptoms of myxedema by:
- Having the patient wear compression stockings to help reduce swelling that is associated with this condition.
- Using topical corticosteroids to help decrease the inflammation that is associated with skin thickening that myxedema can cause.
If hypothyroidism is the underlying cause and is not treated along with a triggering event like an infection, it can lead to the patient going into a coma referred to as Myxedema coma, which can be life threatening.
Pictures of Myxedema…