The First Treatment of Myxoedema in County London - derry

Prodded by other historical posts, now seems to be the time to post this report – a truly amazing story of a doctor treating hypothyroidism. What was quite chilling was the matter-of-fact way he is told “Not, they said, that anything could be done... ”

In my opinion, if you find any interest at all, you should follow the link at the end and read the whole paper.

For anyone unaware, myxoedema is a term for hypothyroidism - often nowadays reserved for the most serious cases in which many of the classical symptoms are very obvious.


The treatment of myxoedema with raw sheep thyroid gland and its introduction into practice in County Londonderry in 1892

Mary S T Logan, J S Logan

Doctor David Thompson1 (1849 -1936), of Fincairn and Feeny in County London - derry, introduced the effective treatment of myxoedema to his neighbourhood in late 1892 or early 1893. He received the degree of BA from the Queen's University in Ireland in 1871, (Queen's College, Galway), and then qualified in medicine in 1873 (LRCP and S, LM, Edinburgh). In 1874 he was appointed dispensary doctor to the Feeny dispensary district. He held the post, and carried on his general practice, until 1928 when he was 79. Poor Law patients were seen at the dispensary, or, if too ill to attend, then in their homes. Other patients came to his family home in Fincairn. For many years he went about his rounds on horseback. It is said that he did the first cataract operation in that part of County Londonderry, on an old blind beggar woman. It was done on a kitchen table, with a local helper, one supposes to hold her head.

One day, when he was visiting a man with a broken leg, the neighbours asked him if he would speak to a poor woman who was dying. Not, they said, that anything could be done, because others of the family had died in exactly the same way. He went in to see her and found that she had advanced myxoedema. One wonders what form of familial myxoedema had afflicted the kinship, if indeed the family history was true. By a happy chance Thompson had recently read in his British Medical Journal (he was member of the Association) a report of the first successful treatment of myxoedema by the oral feeding of sheep thyroid gland. He at once obtained some thyroid gland from the slaughterhouse, presumably sheep's, and started her on it. She made a miraculous recovery. After that, until the dried preparation was commercially available, he always kept her supplied with fresh thyroid gland. When he was on holiday, he arranged for it to be got for her till he came home. What Thompson had read in his farmhouse home in Fincairn, that remote townland in County Londonderry, were the reports of H W G Mackenzie2 of London and E L Fox3 of Plymouth in the British Medical Journal of the 29th October 1892.



10 Replies

  • Rod,

    Thanks for posting the article above. You have certainly captured the essence of exactly the points I was making in my post.

    Several thoughts occurred to me following reading the above and I have downloaded the PDF file you provided via the link as I can well use that for some professional development.

    The historian in me wonders what the time frame was from starting the thyroid gland to the time of the recovery. What does the death certificate of the lady concerned say and likewise of her family? Has any poor law records from the parish or dispensary survived?

    So many questions!



  • If you have not already seen this, also highly recommended.


    By GEORGE R. MURRAY, M.D., D.C.L., F.R.C.P

    The development of the principles and practice of endocrinology during the last thirty years has been rapid and progressive. The practice of this branch of medicine has unfortunately not always been based on sound physiological principles, so that glandular extracts have been given indiscriminately in many conditions with disappointing results. In the case of some preparations there is little evidence that the hormones they supposed to contain are able to exert their normal physiological effects when given by the mouth. It therefore may be of interest to complete the life-history of the first case of myxoedema successfully treated by thyroid extract - it has recently terminated at the age of 74. The results obtained in this case not only afforded definite proof that the thyroid gland produced an internal secretion, but showed that the thyroidal insufficiency of myxoedema in man could be made good by maintaining an adequate supply of thyroidal hormones from an external source.

    As before, I highly recommend downloading and reading the complete PDF version.


  • Why do we use the un kosher porcine products rather than sheep products? Excellent find but difficult to copy. I hope they dont withdraw this article,

  • Do you mean as in copy and paste elsewhere? If so, yes, it is a pain. But no problem if it is the whole document you want.

    I thought at least some interpretations of kosher rules allowed porcine products to be consumed if they are for significant health reasons? Not that I know much about it. But have a look here:

    But in answer to the actual question - I don't know. I suspect that there might be no medical reason and that the Armour meat packers simply saw how to make money out of what was otherwise a waste product they had in abundance. And that was pig thyroid. So it simply became the standard. But I like to hear if anyone knows better...


  • Hi. I'm new to here and you all seem very supportive. My daughter is having such a tough time with all over body swelling (almost 5 yrs ago and very sudden gain of 90 lbs) she is also extremely weak and fatigued which comes and goes in cycles. Her face swells up and gets very red. She has severe hair loss and her skin is very firm. She is convinced she has cushings but tests are negative. She is type 1 diabetic and also coeliac and has MS (a lot to deal with) hashimotos is closely linked to her conditions. GP will only test TSH which is within normal range. I think she should be having antibodies done. What do you all think? She does appear to have the signs of myxoedema apart from cold intolerance (quite the reverse). Any advice much appreciated

  • Welcome, Beingamum.

    Thanks for posting - unfortunately you have chosen to post your question down here as part of a five-year-old thread. Trouble is, it will very likely get missed.

    I encourage you to post again - but in your own, brand new post. Click on "Write a post"...

    For what it's worth, yes, a TSH test alone is inadequate.

  • Oops thanks helvella x

  • No problem. :-)

  • I'm so glad this poster posted here by mistake! What interesting reading!

  • I loved the story - which is why I posted it all that time ago. :-)

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