Thyroid and Aging – Helping to Keep the Golden Years Golden


Medical Author: Ruchi
Mathur, M.D.

Medical Editor: William
C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

It is an often a sad but true fact that as we age, the golden years are not quite
as golden as we dreamed. Symptoms such as fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, and sleeplessness can make
attempts at enjoying retirement difficult. Many seniors attribute these symptoms
to the process of aging and simply choose to
live with these complaints quietly, assuming its “par for the course.”
Others see their doctors for these complaints, who may also attribute these
symptoms to aging, or worse, diagnose the patient with clinical depression or
dementia.

What we all
need to understand is that aging, in the absence of disease, should not
automatically be associated with symptoms such as fatigue, forgetfulness, and
sleeplessness. There should be some medical evaluation before an elderly patient
is simply labeled as depressed or demented, or a chronic complainer.

The incidence
of thyroid disease increases with age. An estimated 20% of women over the age of
60 have some form of thyroid disease. The symptoms of thyroid disease vary
according to whether too much hormone is being produced (hyperthyroid) or too
little (hypothyroid). Hypothyroidism
is much more common in the elderly population, and symptoms may be non-specific
such as those mentioned above.

Below are
some interesting points about thyroid disease and aging as compiled by the
American Association of Endocrinologists:

  • 1
    out of every 5 women over the age of 65 has an higher than normal level of TSH
    (indicating hypothyroidism)
  • Approximately
    25% of the elderly population suffer from some form of mental illness. A
    significant number of these cases may be related to thyroid disease.
  • Approximately 15% of all patients diagnosed with
    hyperthyroidism are over the age of 60.
  • Because
    of many factors, thyroid disease in those over 65 years old is much more likely
    to remain undiagnosed as compared with thyroid disease in 30 to 40 year olds.




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There are two
more points of importance regarding elderly patients and thyroid disease. First,
hypothyroidism is a risk factor for high cholesterol and
heart
disease. Because many elderly people remain undiagnosed for years, it is
important to check cholesterol levels in all elderly patients who are diagnosed
with hypothyroidism. The opposite is also true. Elderly patients with
persistently increased cholesterol levels should have a thyroid evaluation to
make certain that thyroid disease is not contributing to the high cholesterol
levels. Second, hyperthyroidism is
a cause for osteoporosis, a common cause of weak bones in the elderly.

What can you
do to make certain you thyroid level is OK? It’s simple. If you are suspicious
that you may have thyroid disease, or you have symptoms such as those above that
have gone unexplained, ask your physician for a thyroid evaluation. This
involves examining the thyroid gland in the neck and a simple blood test to
evaluate TSH levels and T4 and T3 levels. Thyroid disease is usually easy to
diagnose and treat. Identifying thyroid disease and treating it appropriately
can help you enjoy those golden years after all.

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