Cretinism vs. Myxedema

What's the Difference?

Cretinism and Myxedema are both conditions that result from underactive thyroid glands, but they differ in their onset and presentation. Cretinism is a congenital form of hypothyroidism that occurs from birth or early infancy, often due to a genetic defect or iodine deficiency during pregnancy. It is characterized by stunted growth, intellectual disability, delayed development, and physical abnormalities. On the other hand, Myxedema is an acquired form of hypothyroidism that typically develops in adulthood, usually due to autoimmune thyroiditis or thyroid surgery. It is characterized by fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, and swelling of the face and limbs. While both conditions require lifelong hormone replacement therapy, early detection and treatment of cretinism are crucial to prevent irreversible developmental delays.


CauseGenetic disorderAutoimmune disorder
Thyroid Hormone LevelsLowLow
OnsetPresent at birthDevelops later in life
SymptomsDelayed growth, intellectual disability, physical deformitiesFatigue, weight gain, dry skin, hair loss
TreatmentThyroid hormone replacement therapyThyroid hormone replacement therapy

Further Detail


Cretinism and Myxedema are two distinct medical conditions that affect the thyroid gland, leading to hormonal imbalances and subsequent symptoms. While both conditions are related to thyroid dysfunction, they differ in terms of their causes, age of onset, clinical manifestations, and treatment approaches. In this article, we will explore the attributes of Cretinism and Myxedema, shedding light on their unique characteristics and highlighting the importance of early diagnosis and appropriate management.


Cretinism, also known as congenital hypothyroidism, is a condition that occurs due to an underactive thyroid gland from birth. It is primarily caused by a deficiency of thyroid hormones, which are crucial for normal growth and development. The most common cause of Cretinism is an absent or poorly developed thyroid gland, known as thyroid dysgenesis. Other causes include defects in thyroid hormone synthesis or transport.

Infants with Cretinism often exhibit distinct physical features, such as a puffy face, a protruding tongue, and a wide neck. They may also have a disproportionately large abdomen and short stature. Additionally, delayed milestones, intellectual disability, and poor muscle tone are common in individuals with Cretinism. If left untreated, Cretinism can lead to irreversible cognitive impairment and growth abnormalities.

The diagnosis of Cretinism is typically made through newborn screening programs, which involve measuring thyroid hormone levels in a blood sample obtained shortly after birth. Early detection is crucial to initiate prompt treatment with thyroid hormone replacement therapy. With appropriate treatment, individuals with Cretinism can lead normal lives and achieve normal growth and development.


Myxedema, on the other hand, is a condition that occurs in adulthood and is characterized by severe hypothyroidism. It is most commonly caused by autoimmune thyroiditis, also known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis, where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. Other causes of Myxedema include surgical removal of the thyroid gland, radiation therapy to the neck, or certain medications.

The clinical manifestations of Myxedema are diverse and can affect multiple organ systems. Patients with Myxedema often experience fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, and constipation. They may also have dry skin, hair loss, and a puffy appearance, particularly around the eyes and face. Mental symptoms, such as depression, forgetfulness, and difficulty concentrating, are also common in individuals with Myxedema.

Diagnosing Myxedema involves evaluating symptoms, physical examination findings, and measuring thyroid hormone levels in the blood. Treatment for Myxedema typically involves lifelong thyroid hormone replacement therapy to restore normal hormone levels and alleviate symptoms. Regular monitoring of thyroid function is essential to ensure optimal hormone replacement and prevent complications.


While both Cretinism and Myxedema are forms of hypothyroidism, they differ in several aspects. Firstly, Cretinism is a congenital condition that is present from birth, whereas Myxedema develops later in life. The age of onset is a crucial distinguishing factor between the two conditions.

Secondly, the causes of Cretinism and Myxedema also differ. Cretinism is primarily caused by developmental abnormalities of the thyroid gland, whereas Myxedema is often caused by autoimmune destruction of the thyroid gland or other acquired factors.

Thirdly, the clinical manifestations of Cretinism and Myxedema vary. Cretinism is characterized by distinct physical features, delayed milestones, and intellectual disability. In contrast, Myxedema primarily presents with symptoms related to generalized hypothyroidism, such as fatigue, weight gain, and mental symptoms.

Lastly, the treatment approaches for Cretinism and Myxedema differ. Cretinism requires early initiation of thyroid hormone replacement therapy to prevent irreversible cognitive impairment and promote normal growth and development. Myxedema, on the other hand, necessitates lifelong thyroid hormone replacement therapy to alleviate symptoms and maintain optimal thyroid hormone levels.


Cretinism and Myxedema are two distinct thyroid disorders that share the common feature of hypothyroidism. While Cretinism is a congenital condition with early onset, Myxedema develops later in life. The causes, clinical manifestations, and treatment approaches for these conditions differ significantly. Early diagnosis and appropriate management are crucial to prevent long-term complications and ensure optimal outcomes for individuals affected by Cretinism or Myxedema. By understanding the unique attributes of these conditions, healthcare professionals can provide timely interventions and improve the quality of life for affected individuals.

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