You know that feeling you get when your thyroid is bothering you? No? Don’t feel bad. There are currently 15 million people in the U.S. with some form of thyroid disease and they don’t even know it. So, with January being Thyroid Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to talk about it because, once it’s diagnosed, your physician can prescribe a range of effective treatments.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits on the front and sides of the neck, right below the Adam’s apple along the front of the windpipe. Because it is part of the endocrine system, the thyroid directly affects almost every single organ in the body. In fact, the thyroid is responsible for regulating metabolism, menstrual cycles, calcium levels, cholesterol levels, body temperature, and respiration, as well as heart and nervous system function.
So, naturally, when the thyroid gland is not functioning the way it’s supposed to, it can cause all kinds of health problems.
The main reason thyroid conditions go undetected is that the symptoms don’t seem that bad, at least at the beginning. And for seniors, some of the most common symptoms are mistakenly attributed to getting older, such as memory issues, constipation and unexplained weight changes.
The root cause of thyroid problems is the overproduction (hyperthyroidism) or underproduction (hypothyroidism) of the thyroxine and triiodothyronine hormones, more commonly known as the thyroid hormones. When too much of the thyroid hormones is produced, the symptoms can include an increase in nervousness or anxiety, or a general sense of emotional instability. Hyperthyroidism can also cause unexpected weight loss, high blood pressure, unusually rapid heart rate and diarrhea, as well as irregular menstrual cycles.
When the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormone, it can cause muscle aches, constipation, depression, loss of body hair and changes in the voice. Patients may also experience irregular menstrual cycles, unexplained weight gain and a reduction of the heart rate.
Diagnosing a patient with thyroid disease is based on testing to determine how much TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone, is in the blood. TSH is released by the pituitary gland and it tells the thyroid to produce and release thyroid hormones into the bloodstream.
According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the risk of thyroid disease increases as we age. In fact, they estimate that one out of every five women over the age of 65 has elevated levels of TSH, which indicates that the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormone. Also, it is estimated that 25 percent of the elderly population suffers from some form of mental illness, such as dementia, depression or anxiety. However, many of those cases may be caused by thyroid issues.
It’s important to note that aging alone should not be automatically linked to symptoms like fatigue, memory problems and trouble sleeping unless the patient has been diagnosed with a disease or condition known to cause those symptoms.
So if you’re experiencing some of these symptoms and don’t understand why, ask your physician to order a thyroid evaluation. This test includes an examination of the thyroid gland, along with a blood test to check the levels of the thyroid hormones and TSH. If you are diagnosed with thyroid disease, it’s easy to treat and getting treatment can make a huge difference in your quality of life.