Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

SAVVY SENIOR ; Thyroid Disorders Common in Older Adults, Missed Often

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

SAVVY SENIOR ; Thyroid Disorders Common in Older Adults, Missed Often

Article excerpt

Dear Savvy Senior: Can you write a column on the overlooked problem of thyroid disease? After struggling with chronic fatigue, joint pain and memory problems, I was finally diagnosed hypothyroidism. Now, at age 70, I'm on thyroid medication and am doing great. Five years of feeling lousy. I wish I'd have known. - Frustrated Patient

Dear Frustrated: I'm glad to hear that you're finally feeling better. Unfortunately, thyroid problems are quite common in older adults but can be tricky to detect because the symptoms often resemble other age related health problems. In fact, as many as 30 million Americans have some form of thyroid disorder, but more than half of them aren't aware of it.

Here's a basic overview: The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck that has a huge job. It produces hormones (called T3 and T4) that help regulate the rate of many of your body's activities, from how quickly you burn calories to how fast your heart beats. It also influences the function of the brain, liver, kidneys and skin.

If the gland is underactive and doesn't produce enough thyroid hormones, it causes body systems to slow down. If it's overactive, and churns out too much thyroid, it has the opposite effect, speeding up the body's processes.

The symptoms for an underactive thyroid (also known as hypothyroidism) - the most common thyroid disorder in older adults - will vary but may include fatigue, unexplained weight gain, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, joint pain, muscle stiffness, dry skin and depression. Some patients may even develop an enlarged thyroid (goiter) at the base of the neck. However, in older adults, it can cause other symptoms like memory impairment, loss of appetite, weight loss, falls or even incontinence.

And the symptoms of an overactive thyroid (or hyperthyroidism), which is more common in people under age 50, may include a rapid heart rate, anxiety, insomnia, increased appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, excessive perspiration, as well as an enlarged thyroid gland. …

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