AssessmentsEuthyroid sick syndrome
Euthyroid sick syndrome
USMLE® Step 1 style questions USMLE
A 22-year-old woman comes to the emergency department because of severe fatigue. She has a history of anorexia and has a current BMI of 16 kg/m2. A thyroid function study is ordered and shows decreased levels of total serum T3 and T4, high-normal TSH, and increased levels of reverse T3. Physical examination of the neck is unremarkable. Which of the following is the most likely diagnosis?
So, euthyroid sick syndrome is a state where the thyroid gland is functioning normally, but the thyroid hormones are at abnormal levels.
Normally, the hypothalamus, which is located at the base of the brain, secretes thyrotropin-releasing hormone, known as ΤRH, into the hypophyseal portal system - which is a network of capillaries linking the hypothalamus to the anterior pituitary.
The anterior pituitary then releases a hormone of its own, called thyroid-stimulating hormone, thyrotropin or simply TSH.
TSH stimulates the thyroid gland which is a gland located in the neck that looks like two thumbs hooked together in the shape of a “V”.
If we zoom into the thyroid gland, we’ll find thousands of follicles, which are small hollow spheres whose walls are lined with follicular cells, and are separated by a small amount of connective tissue.
Follicular cells convert thyroglobulin, a protein found in follicles, into two iodine-containing hormones, triiodothyronine or T3, and thyroxine or T4.
Once released from the thyroid gland, these hormones enter the blood and bind to circulating plasma proteins.
Only a small amount of T3 and T4 will travel unbound in the blood, and these two hormones get picked up by nearly every cell in the body.
Once inside the cell T4 is mostly converted into T3, and it can exert its effect. T3 speeds up the basal metabolic rate.
T3 increases cardiac output, stimulates bone resorption - thinning out the bones, and activates the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system responsible for our ‘fight-or-flight’ response.
Thyroid hormone is important - and the occasional increase can be really useful when you need a boost to get through the final rounds of a sporting competition or to stay warm during a snowstorm!
Meanwhile, thyroid hormones are involved in a number of other things, such as normal function of sebaceous and sweat glands, growth of hair follicles and regulation of the synthesis of proteins and mucopolysaccharides by skin fibroblasts.