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You need a certain amount of iodine in your body in order for it to make a chemical known as thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone controls your metabolism and other important body functions.
Low levels of iodine are not the only cause of low thyroid function. But a lack of iodine can cause an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland, known as a goiter, and other thyroid problems. In children, it can cause mental disabilities.
Your body doesn’t naturally make iodine, so the only way to get this nutrient is through your diet. Adults typically require 150 micrograms (mcg) per day. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need 200 mcg per day. Iodine is found in many types of foods. It’s most concentrated in foods like:
Iodine deficiency affects about 2 billion people worldwide. It’s most common in developing countries where people may lack access to enough healthy food. But it can also affect people in developed countries who lack an adequate diet or whose bodies don’t correctly process iodine.
Pregnant women require more iodine than any other group of people. Because of this, they’re likely to experience a deficiency if they don’t make a conscious effort to consume high-iodine foods.
Signs and symptoms of iodine deficiency include:
This can cause a visible lump, called a goiter, to form on your neck.
Hypothyroidism typically causes symptoms that can include:
In infants, hypothyroidism is likely to cause symptoms like:
In children and teens, this condition may cause:
Symptoms can include:
When left untreated, iodine deficiency can lead to severe hypothyroidism. Complications may include:
Low amounts of thyroid hormone in pregnant women can increase their child’s risk of birth defects. Pregnancy-related issues that iodine deficiency can cause include:
In severe cases, iodine deficiency can cause a condition called cretinism.
Myxedema is a rare but life-threatening complication of hypothyroidism that can be caused by iodine deficiency. Symptoms include:
In people with hypothyroidism, certain things can trigger a myxedema coma. These include sedatives, an infection, or other stressors on the body.
Myxedema is an emergency condition that requires immediate medical treatment. If you experience any of its symptoms, call 911 right away.
If your doctor suspects you have an iodine deficiency, they will usually check your iodine levels in one of four ways:
Iodine deficiency is best corrected by a healthy diet. If your diet alone is not supplying enough iodine, you may want to consider adding an iodine supplement. People who may not be getting enough iodine through food often include:
Iodine supplements containing potassium are the most readily absorbed by the body. Look for supplements that contain potassium iodide and potassium iodate. Don’t take supplements in excess of 150 mcg per day. This could cause an iodine overload, which is also harmful to the thyroid.
Most people with iodine deficiency can fix their health issues by changing their diet and adding supplementation.
People with myxedema require hospitalization. At the hospital, doctors will administer intravenous fluids and other stabilizing treatments. They will also administer thyroid hormones to correct the condition. After a person with myxedema is stable, the doctor will monitor their thyroid function and determine if a change in diet to ensure they are consuming enough iodine will keep their hormone levels stable.
If caught early, iodine deficiency can be completely reversed with few to no side effects. However, if it’s caught after complications arise, many complications — especially in children — can be permanent. But even if complications have developed after iodine deficiency, making sure you get enough iodine going forward can prevent complications from getting worse.
Written by: Erica Cirinoon: Jun 14, 2017
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