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Thyroid Awareness Month & Its Importance for Seniors

January is “Thyroid Awareness Month,” which brings attention to the various health problems connected to the thyroid. Most of us have heard about thyroid glands, but we may not realize the importance of the gland or that we may have symptoms of this disease.

Diagnosing thyroid disease in seniors can be difficult because some of the symptoms are also associated with aging or other medical conditions — however, these can also be signs of thyroid disease, as well.

The thyroid is a gland in the neck in charge of your metabolism and creating new proteins. The gland is part of the endocrine system, which directly affects almost every single organ. It is responsible for regulating skin integrity, menstrual cycles, calcium levels, and the nervous system, heart and cholesterol levels. In addition, it controls brain development, your body temperature, respiration, metabolism and fat production. Thyroid problems begin to occur when the thyroid gland produces too much hormone or not enough.

There are several illnesses and diseases related to the thyroid, including hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, and goiter, and thyroid cancer.

The thyroid may be only a small gland in your lower neck area, but it has a huge impact on your health. This butterfly-shaped gland makes thyroid hormones that help your body use energy and stay warm, according to the American Thyroid Association. Thyroid hormones also keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working properly.

Hyperthyroidism is where your thyroid works more actively than it should. Hyperthyroidism is most common in patients under age 50, and is marked by an enlarged thyroid gland, plus insomnia, a rapid heart rate, anxiety, weight loss, increased appetite, excessive perspiration, and diarrhea. However, the senior hypothyroidism patient may only have one or two of these symptoms, which can delay or prevent accurate diagnosis.

Although hyperthyroidism is associated with more energy, the body breaks down after a while, leading the person to feel more tired.

Other symptoms of hyperthyroidism include: Increased sweating, Anxiety, Oversensitivity to heat, Palpitations, Diarrhea, Increased appetite, Weight loss, Dry, thin skin, Hair loss, Shakiness/trembling, Fatigue, Nervousness, Insomnia, Dry or gritty eyes/double vision

Hypothyroidism means that your thyroid is working slower than it should. Hypothyroidism is most common is patients over 60, and the incidence of this disease increases with age. Symptoms in the older patient are often unspecific; and since older adults can also suffer memory impairment, weight loss, loss of appetite, it’s easy to see why hypothyroidism is so under-diagnosed.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include: Tiredness/fatigue, Sensitivity to cold/heat, Weight gain and inability to lose weight, Constipation, Depression, Anxiety, Slow movements, speech and thoughts, Itchy and/or sore scalp, Muscle aches, pains and weakness, Poor appetite, Dry and tight feeling skin, Brittle hair and nails, Numbness in limbs

There are many possible causes of hypothyroidism, including an autoimmune disease, certain medicines, or even surgical removal of a part of the thyroid gland.

Hashimoto’s disease is also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. It’s the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States, affecting about 14 million Americans. It can occur at any age, though it’s most common in middle-aged women. The disease occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and slowly destroys the thyroid gland and its ability to produce hormones.

Some people with mild cases of Hashimoto’s disease may have no obvious symptoms. The disease can remain stable for years, and symptoms are often subtle, which means they also mimic symptoms of many other conditions.

Symptoms include: Fatigue, Depression, Constipation, Mild Weight Gain, Dry Skin, Dry, Thinning Hair, Pale, Puffy Face, Heavy and Irregular Menstruation, Intolerance to Cold, Enlarged Thyroid, or Goiter

If you think you or your loved one may have an undiagnosed thyroid condition, visit Murray County Medical Center to talk with a provider and have a thyroid test completed.

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