Cretinism

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Cretinism is a congenital form of deficiency of thyroid hormones, retarding mental and physical growth.

A cretin is a person affected by cretinism. This term has come to be regarded as insulting in the general population, although it is appropriate within technical settings.

Cretinism results from thyroid hormone deficiency. Thyroid hormones have permissive growth effects on body tissues such as muscular and neuronal tissue. A person afflicted with cretinism has severe physical and mental retardation. Often times he/she will have the physical stature of a child, when in fact the person is much older. Other symptoms may include slurred speech and movement, a protruding abdomen, and waxy skin.

Cretinism can manifest in a number of ways. If a person is born lacking a thyroid gland he/she will be affected. Also, it can develop through iodine deficiency. For this reason, cretinism has historically been more common in areas where the soil is deficient in iodine.

If it is treated early with thyroid hormones and trace iodine supplementation of the diet, significant improvement can be seen.


Originally, crétin was an old French name for the wildmen (or woodwose) of the Alps, in french folktales. A local legend says that the last eighteen crétins were massacred by order of the local priest, in Voreppe, France, in the 1850’s. (Source : Le Journal d’un Médecin de Campagne by Honoré de Balzac)


Cretin also means an idiot or an ignorant peasant.

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