Thyrotoxic myopathy

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Thyrotoxic myopathy
Specialty Neurology

Thyrotoxic myopathy (TM) is a neuromuscular disorder that develops due to the overproduction of the thyroid hormone thyroxine. Also known as hyperthyroid myopathy, TM is one of many myopathies that lead to muscle weakness and muscle tissue breakdown. Evidence indicates the onset may be caused by hyperthyroidism. [1] Physical symptoms of TM may include muscle weakness, the breakdown of muscle tissue, fatigue, and heat intolerance. [2] Physical acts such as lifting objects and climbing stairs may become increasingly difficult. [3] If untreated, TM can be an extremely debilitating disorder that can, in extreme rare cases, lead to death. If diagnosed and treated properly the effects can be controlled and in most cases reversed leaving no lasting effects.


Symptoms and signs

Physical symptoms may include:[ citation needed ]

Chronic TM

Symptoms of chronic TM arise slowly. Patients usually cite decreased exercise tolerance, increased fatigue, and difficulty completing certain tasks after six months of onset. [4] [5] If chronic TM goes untreated worse symptoms may develop including difficulty swallowing and respiratory distress. These occurrences are rare since diagnosis of chronic TM usually occurs during the early stages of onset, before these symptoms develop.[ citation needed ]

Acute TM

Acute TM is rarer than chronic TM and symptoms appear within days of onset. Acute TM degrades muscle fibers rapidly. Due to the rapid degradation of muscle fibers patients usually cite severe muscle cramps and muscle pain. Some acute TM patients may present symptoms of blurred vision and bulging eyes due to eye muscle degradation and inflammation, but documented cases are rare. Acute TM patients usually have very weak respiratory muscles and often severe respiratory failure occurs. [6]


Various authors have suggested that thyrotoxic myopathy is a result of the weight loss and generalized asthenia associated with hyperthyroidism. Muscle involvement has been reported to occur in about 80% of thyrotoxic patients (see section #Epidemiology), [7] and the most common causes of hyperthyroidism are Graves’ disease, toxic multinodular goiter, and autonomously functioning thyroid adenoma. [8]


Excess thyroxine is believed to bring about the onset of thyrotoxic myopathy and eventually cause the degradation of muscle tissue. Thyroxine is a hormone produced in the thyroid gland that regulates the growth metabolism of the nervous system and regulates basal metabolic rate of many cell types. Scientists agree thyroxine brings about the degradation of muscle fibers specifically at the motor end plates of neuromuscular junctions. There is debate as to whether thyroxine degrades the motor end plates from the muscular side, from the nervous system side, or a combination. [1]

To understand how high levels of thyroxine can be toxic and lead to thyrotoxic myopathy physiologically, consider basic neuromuscular junction function. Under normal circumstances, muscle contraction occurs when electrical impulses travel down descending axons from the brain or spinal cord towards the neuromuscular junction. The axon terminal depolarizes and releases Acetylcholine (ACh), a neurotransmitter, which in turn stimulates the motor end plate (MEP) of the muscle fiber the nerve is innervating. When the MEP depolarizes the muscle fiber releases calcium initiating the process of muscle contraction. [ citation needed ]

With the onset of TM due to thyroxine toxicity, there is evidence to suggest that structural changes in MEPs could lead to muscle fiber degradation, weakness, and fatigue. Research indicates that decreased levels of Acetylcholinesterase AChE, an enzyme that breaks down ACh, was observed within the neuromuscular junction. [1] This decrease in AChE blocks degradation of ACh causing ACh to increasingly stimulate the MEP of the muscle fiber. Over stimulation of MEP could cause more muscle contractions which eventually evoke muscle fiber fatigue, weakness, and finally degradation, which are characteristic symptoms of TM. [1] It is believed this decrease in AChE and MEP structural changes could be the result of over stimulation of thyroxin blocking the axoplasmic flow of trophic factors down the axon terminal [9] especially considering thyroxine's role in nervous system growth and metabolism regulation.

Other research indicates muscle fiber fatigue, weakness, and degradation associated with TM is the direct action thyroxine has on the muscle fibers themselves. Research suggests thyroxine directly causes a decrease in protein kinase affinity to cAMP within muscle fibers [1] [10] This causes an increase in cAMP within the muscle fibers since protein kinases are not inactivating cAMP. Increased levels of cAMP within the muscle fibers cause increased release of Ca2+ from the muscle fiber's sarcoplasmic reticulum which eventually leads to more muscle contractions. Like the nervous system proposal increased muscle contractions eventually evoke muscle fiber fatigue, weakness, and finally degradation, which are characteristic symptoms of TM. There is evidence to support both theories; it has been suggested that toxic levels of thyroxine may ultimately attack muscle fibers directly and indirectly by the motor neurons that innervate the affected muscle fibers.[ citation needed ]


Thyrotoxic myopathy is usually diagnosed by a neurologist who has extensive experience diagnosing neuromuscular disorders. There are many types of neuromuscular disorders that present similar physical symptoms. Extensive clinical tests are performed first to determine if there is a neuromuscular disorder and then to determine which disorder it is. Electromyography is used to diagnose myopathies by comparing muscle contraction responses to electrical stimulus. [11] For TM results may indicate normal responses or myopathic responses depending on how the disorder has progressed. Early detection may indicate normal contractual responses while highly progressed TM may show a significant decrease in contraction response. [ citation needed ]

Blood tests are then conducted to determine the specific myopathy. For TM, blood tests reveal increased thyroxine levels. Increased thyroxine levels accompanied with decreased neuromuscular responses together provide best evidence for TM diagnosis. Creatine phosphokinase levels are also examined during the blood tests. Normal or increased levels may be observed with TM depending on the severity of TM's progression. Normal levels indicate possible early stages of progression while increased levels may indicate later stages of thyrotoxic myopathy. Muscle biopsies may also be taken and examined to determine TM's progression with respect to physical degradation. Like measured creatine phosphokinase levels results from the muscle biopsy characteristic of TM typically show normal to severe fiber degradation with respective indications to the severity of progression.[ citation needed ]


Treatment for TM is typically done with the collaboration of many medical specialists. Usually a neuromuscular specialist, an endocrinologist, a surgeon, and an ophthalmologist will combine their efforts to successfully treat patients with TM. If a patient develops significant to severe muscle degradation as a result of TM, a physical therapist may be consulted for rehabilitation. Since excess thyroxine leads to onset of TM, the overall goal of treatment is to reduce the overproduction of thyroxine from the thyroid gland and restore normal thyroid homeostasis. This can be accomplished three ways including using medication, radiation, and surgery. [ citation needed ]

The first choice involves using medications to alleviate the symptoms and reverse the damage by blocking the production of thyroxine from the thyroid gland. Beta-blockers are used to alleviate the symptoms associated with TM. But beta-blockers do not reduce the damage done by excess thyroxine. Medications such as propylthiouracil and methimazole are administered to block the release of thyroxine from the thyroid and to block the damage thyroxine inflicts on muscle fiber tissue.[ citation needed ]

One treatment option is the use of radioactive iodine which directly destroys the overactive thyroid gland. The thyroid gland naturally uses iodine to produce thyroxine and other hormones. It cannot distinguish between normal iodine and the radioactive version. Administering the radioactive isotope causes the thyroid to take in the lethal iodine and quickly radiation destroys it. [12] Typically overproduction of thyroxine using radio-iodine is blocked with one dose. The drawback to this treatment is the thyroid gland is completely destroyed and patients often develop hypothyroidism. Some do so only a few months after treatment while others may not be affected for 20–30 years. Hypothyroidism patients must begin a lifelong regimen of thyroid replacement hormones. While the onset of hypothyroidism is most common with radio-iodine treatment, the condition has been observed in patients treated with medication series and surgery.[ citation needed ]

The last option for TM treatment includes surgical removal of portions of the thyroid which can also be performed to restore thyroid homeostasis. This treatment option usually is done when overproduction of TM is caused by a toxic multinodular goiter. Since these goiters enlarge the thyroid and can cause the patient to become physically disfigured surgical treatment can alleviate both the aesthetic and physiological effects simultaneously.[ citation needed ]


TM, with proper diagnosis and effective treatment, can be beaten. Patients who are diagnosed have a normal life expectancy and can ultimately lead healthy lives if proper treatment is administered. Typically, once the over-production of thyroxine is corrected and thyroid function adequately reaches a level of homeostasis, patients begin to regain muscle strength in two to four months. Depending on the severity of the TM progression symptoms may take up to a year to completely reverse the damage done by TM. Untreated TM can eventually cause severe respiratory distress or arrest possible leading to death, yet this is very rarely seen.[ citation needed ]


The onset of TM requires toxic levels of the thyroxine hormone due to overproduction by the thyroid gland. Documented cases have only been diagnosed in conjunction with patients with hyperthyroidism. While hyperthyroidism is more common in women, the development of TM was more common among men with hyperthyroidism. Case studies of patients with diagnosed hyperthyroidism showed that only about half of them complained of symptoms characteristic of TM. [13] Further examination as described above indicated that about 75% of the studied patients showed signs of muscle fiber degeneration. [14] This indicates that either at the time of study some patients were in early stages of TM or the symptoms were insignificant patients.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hyperthyroidism</span> Thyroid gland disease that involves an overproduction of thyroid hormone

Hyperthyroidism is the condition that occurs due to excessive production of thyroid hormones by the thyroid gland. Thyrotoxicosis is the condition that occurs due to excessive thyroid hormone of any cause and therefore includes hyperthyroidism. Some, however, use the terms interchangeably. Signs and symptoms vary between people and may include irritability, muscle weakness, sleeping problems, a fast heartbeat, heat intolerance, diarrhea, enlargement of the thyroid, hand tremor, and weight loss. Symptoms are typically less severe in the elderly and during pregnancy. An uncommon but life-threatening complication is thyroid storm in which an event such as an infection results in worsening symptoms such as confusion and a high temperature; this often results in death. The opposite is hypothyroidism, when the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone.

Kocher–Debré–Semelaigne syndrome(KDSS) is hypothyroidism in infancy or childhood characterised by lower extremity or generalized muscular hypertrophy (Herculean appearance), myxoedema, short stature, and cognitive impairment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lambert–Eaton myasthenic syndrome</span> Medical condition

Lambert–Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS) is a rare autoimmune disorder characterized by muscle weakness of the limbs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Myasthenia gravis</span> Autoimmune disease resulting in skeletal muscle weakness

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a long-term neuromuscular junction disease that leads to varying degrees of skeletal muscle weakness. The most commonly affected muscles are those of the eyes, face, and swallowing. It can result in double vision, drooping eyelids, and difficulties in talking and walking. Onset can be sudden. Those affected often have a large thymus or develop a thymoma.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thyroid</span> Endocrine gland in the neck; secretes hormones that influence metabolism

The thyroid, or thyroid gland, is an endocrine gland in vertebrates. In humans, it is in the neck and consists of two connected lobes. The lower two thirds of the lobes are connected by a thin band of tissue called the isthmus (pl.: isthmi). The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck below the Adam's apple. Microscopically, the functional unit of the thyroid gland is the spherical thyroid follicle, lined with follicular cells (thyrocytes), and occasional parafollicular cells that surround a lumen containing colloid. The thyroid gland secretes three hormones: the two thyroid hormones – triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) – and a peptide hormone, calcitonin. The thyroid hormones influence the metabolic rate and protein synthesis and growth and development in children. Calcitonin plays a role in calcium homeostasis. Secretion of the two thyroid hormones is regulated by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is secreted from the anterior pituitary gland. TSH is regulated by thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which is produced by the hypothalamus.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Graves' disease</span> Autoimmune endocrine disease

Graves' disease, also known as toxic diffuse goiter, is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. It frequently results in and is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. It also often results in an enlarged thyroid. Signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism may include irritability, muscle weakness, sleeping problems, a fast heartbeat, poor tolerance of heat, diarrhea and unintentional weight loss. Other symptoms may include thickening of the skin on the shins, known as pretibial myxedema, and eye bulging, a condition caused by Graves' ophthalmopathy. About 25 to 30% of people with the condition develop eye problems.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hypothyroidism</span> Endocrine disease

Hypothyroidism is a disorder of the endocrine system in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones. It can cause a number of symptoms, such as poor ability to tolerate cold, a feeling of tiredness, constipation, slow heart rate, depression, and weight gain. Occasionally there may be swelling of the front part of the neck due to goitre. Untreated cases of hypothyroidism during pregnancy can lead to delays in growth and intellectual development in the baby or congenital iodine deficiency syndrome.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glycogen storage disease</span> Medical condition

A glycogen storage disease is a metabolic disorder caused by a deficiency of an enzyme or transport protein affecting glycogen synthesis, glycogen breakdown, or glucose breakdown, typically in muscles and/or liver cells.

Weakness is a symptom of many different medical conditions. The causes are many and can be divided into conditions that have true or perceived muscle weakness. True muscle weakness is a primary symptom of a variety of skeletal muscle diseases, including muscular dystrophy and inflammatory myopathy. It occurs in neuromuscular junction disorders, such as myasthenia gravis.

In medicine, myopathy is a disease of the muscle in which the muscle fibers do not function properly. Myopathy means muscle disease. This meaning implies that the primary defect is within the muscle, as opposed to the nerves or elsewhere.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Exercise intolerance</span> Medical condition

Exercise intolerance is a condition of inability or decreased ability to perform physical exercise at the normally expected level or duration for people of that age, size, sex, and muscle mass. It also includes experiences of unusually severe post-exercise pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting or other negative effects. Exercise intolerance is not a disease or syndrome in and of itself, but can result from various disorders.

Nemaline myopathy is a congenital, often hereditary neuromuscular disorder with many symptoms that can occur such as muscle weakness, hypoventilation, swallowing dysfunction, and impaired speech ability. The severity of these symptoms varies and can change throughout one's life to some extent. The prevalence is estimated at 1 in 50,000 live births. It is the most common non-dystrophic myopathy.

Ocular myasthenia gravis (MG) is a disease of the neuromuscular junction resulting in hallmark variability in muscle weakness and fatigability. MG is an autoimmune disease where anomalous antibodies are produced against the naturally occurring acetylcholine receptors in voluntary muscles. MG may be limited to the muscles of the eye, leading to abrupt onset of weakness/fatigability of the eyelids or eye movement. MG may also involve other muscle groups.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thyroid disease</span> Medical condition

Thyroid disease is a medical condition that affects the function of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located at the front of the neck and produces thyroid hormones that travel through the blood to help regulate many other organs, meaning that it is an endocrine organ. These hormones normally act in the body to regulate energy use, infant development, and childhood development.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thyroiditis</span> Medical condition

Thyroiditis is the inflammation of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located on the front of the neck below the laryngeal prominence, and makes hormones that control metabolism.

Muscle weakness is a lack of muscle strength. Its causes are many and can be divided into conditions that have either true or perceived muscle weakness. True muscle weakness is a primary symptom of a variety of skeletal muscle diseases, including muscular dystrophy and inflammatory myopathy. It occurs in neuromuscular junction disorders, such as myasthenia gravis. Muscle weakness can also be caused by low levels of potassium and other electrolytes within muscle cells. It can be temporary or long-lasting. The term myasthenia is from my- from Greek μυο meaning "muscle" + -asthenia ἀσθένεια meaning "weakness".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thyroid hormones</span> Hormones produced by the thyroid gland

Thyroid hormones are any hormones produced and released by the thyroid gland, namely triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). They are tyrosine-based hormones that are primarily responsible for regulation of metabolism. T3 and T4 are partially composed of iodine, derived from food. A deficiency of iodine leads to decreased production of T3 and T4, enlarges the thyroid tissue and will cause the disease known as simple goitre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Acquired non-inflammatory myopathy</span> Medical condition

Acquired non-inflammatory myopathy (ANIM) is a neuromuscular disorder primarily affecting skeletal muscle, most commonly in the limbs of humans, resulting in a weakness or dysfunction in the muscle. A myopathy refers to a problem or abnormality with the myofibrils, which compose muscle tissue. In general, non-inflammatory myopathies are a grouping of muscular diseases not induced by an autoimmune-mediated inflammatory pathway. These muscular diseases usually arise from a pathology within the muscle tissue itself rather than the nerves innervating that tissue. ANIM has a wide spectrum of causes which include drugs and toxins, nutritional imbalances, acquired metabolic dysfunctions such as an acquired defect in protein structure, and infections.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thyrotoxic periodic paralysis</span> Human disease

Thyrotoxic periodic paralysis (TPP) is a rare condition featuring attacks of muscle weakness in the presence of hyperthyroidism. Hypokalemia is usually present during attacks. The condition may be life-threatening if weakness of the breathing muscles leads to respiratory failure, or if the low potassium levels lead to abnormal heart rhythms. If untreated, it is typically recurrent in nature.

Amiodarone induced thyrotoxicosis (AIT) is a form of hyperthyroidism due to treatment with antiarrhythmic drug, amiodarone.


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