Lower-Extremity Weakness in a Teenager Due to Thyrotoxic Periodic Paralysis

Matthew D Thornton
Journal of Emergency Medicine 2017, 52 (4): e133-e137

BACKGROUND: Thyrotoxic hypokalemic paralysis is the hallmark of thyrotoxic periodic paralysis (TPP). TPP is a potentially deadly complication of hyperthyroidism that occurs because of rapid and dramatic intracellular shift of potassium. This transference results in severe hypokalemia and clinically manifests itself as muscle weakness or paralysis. This condition predominantly affects males of Asian descent, and its presentation can range from mild to severe, as seen in our case.

CASE REPORT: We present the case of a 15-year-old Asian-American male who presented to a tertiary-care pediatric emergency department complaining of generalized weakness and flaccid paralysis of his lower extremities. The differential for such a complaint is extremely broad, and the symptoms can result from etiologies arising from the cerebral cortex, the spinal cord, peripheral nerves, the neuromuscular junction, or even the muscles themselves. Our patient was found to have an extremely low serum potassium concentration, as well as an electrocardiogram that revealed a prolonged QT interval and right bundle branch block. The etiology of these abnormalities and the patient's symptoms was found to be undiagnosed and uncontrolled hyperthyroidism from Grave's disease, which resulted in this dramatic presentation of thyrotoxic hypokalemic paralysis. WHY SHOULD AN EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN BE AWARE OF THIS?: This entity is common in Asia but still somewhat rare in the United States and other Western countries. Our case illustrates that careful history taking and a focused diagnostic evaluation, in conjunction with having an awareness of this disease, can help expedite diagnosis and management, as well as avoid unnecessary and potential harmful testing in the emergency department setting.


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