An estimated 59 million Americans are afflicted with thyroid disease. A majority of those who have it don’t even know it, and doctors are concerned as it remains undiagnosed and untreated.
January is Thyroid Awareness Month, increasing public awareness about thyroid conditions. So I want to mention a few basic facts about the thyroid and thyroid hormones.
Hormones help regulate many functions in the body. Thyroid hormones, in particular, govern the operation of metabolism – how your body converts food into energy.
The National Thyroid Associates describes the thyroid as a “a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is normally located in the lower front of the neck. The thyroid’s job is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormone helps the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles and other organs working as they should” (www.thyroid.org).
Thyroid hormones control the delivery of oxygen and energy to every cell in your body. If your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, YOU won’t function properly, because oxygen and energy can’t get into your cells, tissues and organs. It’s like driving a car without a functioning fuel pump to move gasoline into the engine.
Hypothyroidism, a thyroid disorder, occurs when the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone to perform all these critical functions. The treatment is typically hormone replacement therapy. Signs such as low energy, depression and inability to function mentally often result from hypothyroidism.
Sometimes the thyroid can go into overdrive and produce too much thyroid hormone, a condition known as hyperthyroidism, or “an overactive thyroid.” As with your car, this is like finding the accelerator on your auto stuck when it’s pushed down, causing the engine to get flooded. With too much thyroid hormone, heart rate and blood pressure can increase. You might experience anxiety, tremors, panic attacks, diarrhea, muscle weakness, eye problems, insomnia and rapid weight loss.
The thyroid can also become enlarged (known as a “goiter”), develop lumps (known as “nodules”), and in some cases, those lumps can even be cancerous. Thyroid cancer is, in fact, one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States.
Some of the key signs and symptoms of thyroid disease that are seen in Seniors include…
- Low body temperature
- Particularly fast or slow pulse
- Unusually low or high blood pressure
- Enlarged, tender, or sensitive neck or lump in the neck
- Hoarse, husky or gravelly voice
- Extreme thirst or hunger
- Sudden changes in mood
- Noticeable change in weight (gain or loss) despite no change in diet and exercise
- Feeling warm or hot when others are cold, or cold when others are warm
- Heart palpitations, flutters, skipped beats, strange patterns or rhythm
- Fatigue, weakness
- Pains, aches, and stiffness in various joints, hands, and feet
- Carpal tunnel, tarsal tunnel, plantar’s fascitis
- Puffiness around the eyes
- Constipation and or diarrhea/loose stools
- Hair loss
- Dry, sensitive, gritty or achy eyes
- Swollen hands or feet
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating or remembering
- Anxiety, panic attacks, jumpy
Many of the symptoms of thyroid malfunction unfortunately sound like a list of things we typically think of occurring in the normal aging process. Hence, it is even more common in Seniors for a thyroid imbalance to go undiagnosed. For Seniors and Elderly individuals, correcting thyroid hormone levels can really improve the quality of daily life. Getting the right levels is critical to feeling your best as well as avoiding more serious health problems.