January is a thyroid awareness month. It’s important for seniors to understand about thyroid health as many live with undiagnosed thyroid problems. These problems can further exacerbate other health issues in seniors. Having basic information about thyroid health will help seniors protect their health against the effects and risks of the disease.
So what is Thyroid Disease?
It is an endocrine gland at the base of the neck. The gland is small yet powerful. Thyroid effects many essential body functions, contributing to tasks such as regulating body temperature and metabolism. Digestion, cognitive ability, and other functions are also affected by the thyroid.
Types of Thyroid Diseases
Hypothyroidism: The most common and well known thyroid condition is hypothyroidism, which causes the gland to not produce enough thyroid hormones.
Hyperthyroidism: This type of thyroid disease causes too much production of thyroid hormones.
Other conditions include Grave’s disease, Goiter, Cancer and Hashimoto’s disease.
Signs & Symptoms of the disease:
Common signs of thyroid dysfunction include;
- Dry skin
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Vision problems
- Difficulty Swallowing
- Cold Extremities
- Problems with digestion
Seniors often do undiagnosed with thyroid disease due to the reason that so many symptoms that are commonly present with the disease are also common to other age related issues. It is recommended that seniors ask their healthcare provider for thyroid monitoring during their doctor appointments. Seniors are also at a greater risk of having thyroid problems if;
- A family member has auto-immune disease.
- Swelling is present around neck.
- Females who are over the age of 50.
- A family member has thyroid disease.
Tests for Thyroid Disease Detection:
A combination of simple tests are usually performed to detect thyroid disease. A physician can measure reflexes, metabolic rates, and perform a clinical evaluation to check for the disease. These tests are typically performed along with blood tests that check T4, T3, TSH, antibodies, or other blood levels.
How is the disease treated?
Treatment for the thyroid disease is specific to each type of disease and also the age of the patient. Typically doctors prescribe medications to either decrease thyroid production or to replace the function of the thyroid. Treatments with iodine or therapy may be used in some situations. In seniors and elderly patients, surgery is rarely performed. (National Academy of Hypothyroidism, Thyroid.com)
If a family member or caregiver suspects a senior having some sort of thyroid dysfunction, encourage them to visit their doctor so further evaluation can be done.