Iodine Deficiency: Symptoms & Treatments

[Article updated on 19/09/2023]

Iodine deficiency is a phenomenon that affects many countries around the world, mainly developing countries. Being able to have serious repercussions on health, this lack should not be taken lightly. Here are the main symptoms, as well as possible treatments to remedy them.

Before reading on

I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.

The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.

What is iodine deficiency?

Iodine is an essential trace element in the production of thyroid hormones by the thyroid. As a reminder, this gland is located at the base of the neck. It plays a vital role for the proper functioning of the body. For example, it manages mood, weight, body temperature, the functioning of the brain and heart… In short, the thyroid ensures the optimal functioning of the body’s organs. Therefore, an iodine deficiency would have the consequence of completely disrupting the metabolism of the human body.

Iodine deficiency: symptoms, treatments and preferred foods.
Iodine is an essential trace element in the production of thyroid hormones

What are the causes of iodine deficiency?

The main cause of iodine deficiency comes from the lack of intake of this trace element in the diet. Indeed, it has been observed that the people who most often suffer from a severe iodine deficiency are those whose diet is poor. Iodine is present in table salt, which helps balance the iodine level in the body.

People who do not have access to iodized salt are more exposed to a deficiency. In general, people living in mountains far from the sea, and those in developing countries are most affected, due to diet.

What are the signs of iodine deficiency?

Iodine deficiency can manifest itself in several ways, and can vary from one person to another, and depending on their age:

  • Hyperthyroidism or swelling of the thyroid gland;
  • Hypothyroidism or hypotrophy of the thyroid gland
  • Endemic cretinism
  • Mental retardation


It is, more precisely, a colloid or nodular goiter, resulting from swelling of the thyroid gland. This manifestation is most common in cases of iodine deficiency. When the iodine intake in the diet begins to be critical, the thyroid begins to swell in order to concentrate the remaining iodine in the body at its level. The enlargement of the thyroid can begin in childhood and increase during puberty. Here are the main symptoms linked to hyperthyroidism:

  • Rapid weight loss, even if appetite increases;
  • A regular and persistent increase in heart rate, especially during sleep;
  • Muscle weakness and tremors in the hands;
  • Hot flashes;
  • Almost insatiable thirst
  • Irritability and nervousness
  • Diarrhea, vomiting and nausea;
  • Brittle hair, hot, sweaty skin.
Iodine deficiency: symptoms, treatments and preferred foods
Swelling of the thyroid gland is the most common manifestation of iodine deficiency.


When the level of thyroid hormones in the body becomes severe, thyroid hypotrophy, or hypothyroidism, occurs. This causes an overall decrease in all body functions, with the following symptoms:

  • Swollen face;
  • Heavy eyelids;
  • Hair takes time to grow back and is brittle;
  • Brittle and ridged nails;
  • Curled fingers;
  • A yellowish complexion;
  • Hoarsely ;
  • Impaired hearing;
  • Slowing of psychomotor functions;
  • Depression ;
  • Generalized fatigue;
  • Constipation ;
  • Weight gain ;
  • Cramps and joint pain;
  • Menstrual disorders in women;
  • Infertility.

Endemic cretinism

Endemic cretinism most often affects newborns whose mothers suffer from iodine deficiency. Here are the symptoms relating to this pathology:

  • Deafness and mutism;
  • Mental retardation ;
  • Slow growth, which can lead to dwarfism;
  • Strabismus;
  • Difficulty controlling limb movements precisely;

Mental retardation

Finally, mental retardation is the most serious symptom to highlight in severe iodine deficiency, especially in children. In fact, their body has not developed normally, leading to a blatant mental and physical deficit. Some children cannot walk at the age of 3 or record words.

How to diagnose a lack of iodine?

There are many ways to diagnose iodine deficiency laboratory-based. Here are the main ways to carry out the diagnosis:

  • Urinary iodine dosage: measurement of the iodine concentration in 24-hour urine using specific equipment;
  • Measurement of serum thyroid level (T4);
  • Dosage of TSH (ThyroidStimulatingHormon) by radio-immunoassay;
  • Diagnosis by collecting blood from babies’ cords;
  • Diagnosis by capturing radioactive iodine 131;
  • Ultrasound of the thyroid gland to assess its size

Treatments for iodine deficiency

The main treatment for iodine deficiency consists of consuming sufficient iodine until its levels in the body are rebalanced. For this, it may be necessary to be prescribed iodine with or without levothyroxine. In the case of children with iodine deficiency, levothyroxine 3 µg/kg orally once a day for one week should be taken.

Added to this is iodine 50 to 90 µg orally once a day for several weeks in order to quickly rebalance the iodine level and allow the body to synthesize T4 again. As for adults, they generally receive 150 µg of iodine once a day.

Iodine deficiency: symptoms, treatments and preferred foods.
The main treatment for iodine deficiency is to consume sufficient iodine.

This may be accompanied by levothyroxine. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should take 250 mcg of iodide once a day. In the case of colloid goiter, doctors prescribe patients 6 mg of potassium iodide or Lugol, one drop per day. The goiter should disappear after several weeks of treatment. Nodular goiters are more complex to treat.

In fact, they do not decrease despite treatment with iodine or thyroxine. Surgical intervention may be essential, especially when the goiter is bulky and compresses the trachea. Following this thyroid removal, patients must receive thyroid hormone treatment for life.

Foods to choose to limit the risks of iodine deficiency

The secret to preventing iodine deficiency lies in diet. Indeed, you must make sure to consume iodine regularly. How to recognize foods that are rich in it? Here is a list:

  • Sea salt;
  • Oily fish such as mackerel, anchovies and sardines;
  • Seafood such as shellfish and crustaceans;
  • The seaweeds ;
  • The egg yolk ;
  • Cheese ;
  • The cereals ;
  • Cod liver oil.

Finally, it is important to know that if you tend to be deficient in iodine, it is best to avoid consuming cruciferous foods such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and all varieties of cabbage. In fact, these foods prevent the iodine provided by other foods from being fixed.