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Hyaluronan, an example of a mucopolysaccharide
Classification and external resources
Specialty Endocrinology
ICD-10 E03.9
ICD-9-CM 244.9
DiseasesDB 6558
MedlinePlus 000353
eMedicine med/1581 derm/347
MeSH D009230

Myxedema or myxoedema is a term used synonymously with severe hypothyroidism. However, the term is also used to describe a dermatological change that can occur in hypothyroidism and some forms of hyperthyroidism.

In this context, myxedema refers to deposition of mucopolysaccharides in the dermis, which results in swelling of the affected area. One manifestation of myxedema occurring in the lower limb is pretibial myxedema, a hallmark of Graves disease, an autoimmune form of hyperthyroidism. Myxedema can also occur in Hashimoto's thyroiditis and other long-standing forms of hypothyroidism.

The word myxedema originates from μύξα, taken from ancient Greek to convey 'mucus' or 'slimy substance', and ὁοίδημα for "swelling". It can also be thought as nonpitting edema, in contrast to pitting edema.

Signs and symptoms[edit]

Man with myxedema or severe hypothyroidism showing an expressionless face, puffiness around the eyes and pallor
Additional finding include swelling of the arms and legs and significant ascites.

Myxedema can occur in the lower leg (pretibial myxedema) and behind the eyes (exophthalmos).


Myxedema is known to occur in various forms of hypothyroidism, and also in Graves' disease. One of the hallmarks of Grave's disease is pretibial myxedema, myxedema of the lower limb.[1]

Myxedema is more common in women than in men.[2]

Myxedema can occur in:


Myxedema was first treated successfully in 1891, when Dr George Redmayne Murray diagnosed a 46 year old woman with the disease. He prescribed an extract from sheep thyroid. The patient improved significantly within a few weeks and lived another 28 years while taking the sheep thyroid extract.[4]


Myxedema describes a specific form of cutaneous and dermal edema secondary to increased deposition of connective tissue components. The connective fibres are separated by an increased amount of protein and mucopolysaccharides. These can include glycosaminoglycans, hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate and other mucopolysaccharides.[1] This protein-mucopolysaccharide complex binds water, producing non-pitting boggy edema, in particular around eyes, hands, feet and in the supraclavicular fossae. Myxoedema is responsible for the thickening of the tongue and the laryngeal and pharnygeal mucous membranes, which results in thick slurred speech and hoarseness, both of which are seen commonly in hypothyroidism.

The increased deposition of glycosaminoglycan is not fully understood, however two mechanisms predominate:

  • Fibroblast stimulation. It is thought that fibroblast stimulation by the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) receptor increases the deposition of glycosaminoglycan, which results in an osmotic edema and fluid retention. It is thought that many cells responsible for forming connective tissue react to increases in TSH levels.[citation needed]
  • Lymphocyte stimulation. In Graves' thyroid disease, lymphocytes react against the TSH receptor. Lymphocytes react not only against thyroid receptors, but also any tissue with cells expressing the receptor. This can lead to tissue damage and scar tissue formation, explaining the deposition of glycosaminoglycans.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Berger, William D. James, Dirk M. Elston, Timothy G. Andrews' Diseases of the skin : clinical dermatology. (11th ed.). [London]: Saunders/ Elsevier. ISBN 978-1-4377-0314-6. 
  2. ^ Schneider, Arthur S.; Kim, Philip A. Szanto; with special contributions by Sandra I.; Swanson, Todd A. (2009). Pathology (4th ed.). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 314. ISBN 1451109067. 
  3. ^ "Pretibial Myxedema". Retrieved 2009-03-27. 
  4. ^ "Eating Organs to Cure Disease". Retrieved 15 June 2017.