Cretinism or congenital iodine deficiency syndrome is a congenital condition caused by hypothyroidism during pregnancy. It results in the child's development being stunted both physically and mentally. However, if detected early enough, it can be treated with a lifelong regimen of thyroxine resulting in near normal development.
Cretinism usually occurs in geographical clusters in areas with poor sources of dietary iodine. This deficiency leads to widespread hypothyroidism in women.
The condition has been described since ancient times. The Romans noted it was common in the Alps where a combination of high rainfall, flooding and past glaciation resulted in iodine poor soils. It tended to cluster in areas that also had clusters of goiter. Once thought to be a form of mental disability, its identification as a medical condition has generally led to the term "cretin" being thought of as derogatory. It is no longer used to refer to patients.
Cretinism has declined since the early 20th century when the link between iodine and hypothyroidism was identified. In the developed world, iodine is added in trace amounts to commercially sold salt to virtually eliminate the problem. In rare situations where a mother has hypothyroidism for other reasons, the condition is identified by routine screening of thyroid hormone levels at birth.
The name of the disease was worked into an episode where Chase was trying to do a crossword puzzle and had to ask Foreman what the word might be.