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Am J Emerg Med. 2009 Oct;27(8):1021.e1-2. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2008.12.027.

Severe angioedema in myxedema coma: a difficult airway in a rare endocrine emergency.

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Section of Emergency Medicine, Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, CT 06519, USA.


Myxedema coma is the most lethal manifestation of hypothyroidism. It is a true medical emergency and can result in profound hemodynamic instability and airway compromise. Myxedema coma currently remains a diagnostic challenge due to the rarity of cases seen today, and failure to promptly initiate therapy with replacement thyroid hormone can be fatal. As thyroid hormone therapy can take days or weeks to reverse the manifestations of myxedema coma, interim supportive therapy is critical while awaiting clinical improvement. Some patients will require endotracheal intubation in the emergency department (ED), and physicians should be aware that unanticipated posterior pharyngeal edema in myxedema coma could severely complicate airway management. Although mechanical ventilation is a well-described adjunctive therapy for myxedema coma, reports of the potential difficulty in securing a definitive airway in these patients are rare. We describe a case of an unidentified woman who presented to the ED with myxedema coma requiring urgent endotracheal intubation and was found to have extensive posterior pharyngeal angioedema inconsistent with her relatively benign external examination. This case highlights the typical features of myxedema coma and discusses our necessity for a rescue device in definitive endotracheal tube placement. Emergency physicians should anticipate a potentially difficult airway in all myxedema coma patients regardless of the degree of external facial edema present.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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