Myxedema, or advanced hypothyroidism, occurs when the body does not produce enough thyroid hormone, a chemical that regulates energy and metabolism, breathing, and normal body temperature. The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ at the front base of the neck, also regulates cholesterol levels, heart rate, body weight, muscle strength, menstrual cycles, and the central and peripheral nervous systems. Myxedema refers to severe hypothyroidism and the skin conditions hypothyroidism causes, including thickening and swelling of the skin of the lower legs, and swelling in the eyelids, tongue, and lips. Myxedema develops after long-term undiagnosed or untreated hypothyroidism.
Those who experience respiratory failure due to myxedema may need the help of a ventilator to breathe. Hypothyroidism slows the central respiratory center, weakening the respiratory muscles, creates excessive carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, and keeps the upper respiratory tracts narrow. People with myxedema may also experience sleep apnea, inadequate oxygen flow to tissues, and excess fluid around the heart. In older patients, doctors sometimes misdiagnose hypothyroidism as heart or lung disease.
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