Congenital hypothyroidism

What is congenital hpothyriodism? Read on to learn more about this disease's causes, symptoms, and treatments.

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck, which produces hormones that increase oxygen use in cells and stimulate vital processes in every part of the body. These thyroid hormones have a major impact on growth, use of energy, heat production, and infertility. They affect the use of vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, electrolytes, and water, and regulate the immune response in the intestine. They can also alter the actions of other hormones and drugs.

The two key thyroid hormones are thyroxine (T4) and L-triiodothyronine (T3). Iodine is the raw material used in the manufacture of these hormones; it is extracted from the blood and trapped by the thyroid gland where 80% of the body's iodine is stored. The thyroid mostly produces thyroxine, which in turn, is converted into T3, the more biologically active thyroid hormone. Only about 20% of T3 is actually formed in the thyroid gland, however; the rest is manufactured from circulating thyroxine in tissues outside the thyroid. The whole process of iodine trapping and thyroid hormone production is directly influenced by another important hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH or thyrotropin). This hormone is secreted by the pituitary gland and monitored by thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which is produced in the hypothalamus gland. Both glands are located in the brain. Any abnormality in this intricate system of glands and hormone synthesis and production can have far-reaching consequences.

When there is inadequate secretion of thyroid hormones, hypothyroidism occurs and the body begins to slow down. It was first diagnosed in the late nineteenth century when physicians observed that after surgically removing the thyroid gland, a patient developed swelling of the hands, face, feet, and tissues around the eye. They named this syndrome myxedema and correctly concluded that it was the outcome of the absence of substances -- thyroid hormones -- normally produced by the thyroid gland, i.e., hypothyroidism. A number of conditions can cause this disorder, and it is usually progressive and irreversible. Treatment for hypothyroidism, however, is nearly always completely successful and allows a patient to live a fully normal life.

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