Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to a number of health problems:

  • Goiter. Constant stimulation of your thyroid to release more hormones may cause the gland to become larger — a condition known as a goiter. Hashimoto thyroiditis is one of the most common causes of a goiter. Although generally not uncomfortable, a large goiter can affect your appearance and may interfere with swallowing or breathing.
  • Heart problems. Hypothyroidism may also be associated with an increased risk of heart disease, primarily because high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the "bad" cholesterol — can occur in people with an underactive thyroid. Even subclinical hypothyroidism, a more benign condition than true hypothyroidism, can cause an increase in total cholesterol levels and impair the pumping ability of your heart. Hypothyroidism can also lead to an enlarged heart and heart failure.
  • Mental health issues. Depression may occur early in hypothyroidism and may become more severe over time. Hypothyroidism can also cause slowed mental functioning.
  • Peripheral neuropathy. Long-term uncontrolled hypothyroidism can cause damage to your peripheral nerves — the nerves that carry information from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body, for example your arms and legs. Signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may include pain, numbness and tingling in the area affected by the nerve damage. It may also cause muscle weakness or loss of muscle control.
  • Myxedema. This rare, life-threatening condition is the result of long-term, undiagnosed hypothyroidism. Its signs and symptoms include intense cold intolerance and drowsiness followed by profound lethargy and unconsciousness. A myxedema coma may be triggered by sedatives, infection or other stress on your body. If you have signs or symptoms of myxedema, you need immediate emergency medical treatment.
  • Infertility. Low levels of thyroid hormone can interfere with ovulation, which impairs fertility. In addition, some of the causes of hypothyroidism — such as autoimmune disorder — also impair fertility. Treating hypothyroidism with thyroid hormone replacement therapy may not fully restore fertility. Other interventions may be needed, as well.
  • Birth defects. Babies born to women with untreated thyroid disease may have a higher risk of birth defects than may babies born to healthy mothers. These children are also more prone to serious intellectual and developmental problems. Infants with untreated hypothyroidism present at birth are at risk of serious problems with both physical and mental development. But if this condition is diagnosed within the first few months of life, the chances of normal development are excellent.
Dec. 01, 2012