Vail Daily column: Thyroid and aging
Aging is a normal process the body goes through, but not all of the symptoms that are frequently attributed to the normal aging process should be directly connected to aging — some may be associated with other illnesses such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Symptoms like fatigue, depression, forgetfulness and sleeplessness can often be easily attributed to “just getting old,” yet, as is the case with many other illnesses, these symptoms may indicate another problem area that should be medically evaluated.
Thyroid disease increases with age (especially in woman over the age of 65); “approximately 15 percent of all patients diagnosed with hyperthyroidism are over the age 60.” (www.medicinenet.com). Even though this disease does affect those at younger ages (30-40), it is much more difficult to diagnose as we age.
Hypothyroidism and its’ symptoms (as mentioned above) and hyperthyroidism and its symptoms (irregular heart rhythms, congestive heart failure, weight loss, nervousness, and muscle weakness) are often overlooked in medical evaluations of the elderly and seen as normal in the aging process. However, due to the high incidents and prevalence of these diseases in our elderly, it is wise to carefully review with the physician the possibility of such illness being the cause of the above mentioned symptoms.
Knowledge is the key. Tests, such as T4 and T3U (or T3 Uptake), can be performed to help evaluate the presence of either hyper or hypothyroidism.
Replacement hormone therapy (L-T4) is effective in hypothyroidism, whereas in hyperthyroidism (the over production of thyroid hormone) an antithyroid medication is often prescribed to reduce production of the thyroid hormone with sedatives and beta blockers utilized to treat the associated rapid heart rate and nervousness.
The issue here is that many elderly folks are never diagnosed properly as having hyper or hypothyroidism, but rather are told their symptoms are typical of anyone in their stage of the aging process.
It requires both the family and the physician of the elder to carefully review the mishmash of symptoms that plague us as we age, sort out what is “normal” in the aging process and what might be associated with some other diagnosis (such as hypothyroidism).
Once a suspicion is dealt with, simple tests can determine if the suspicions are valid. Treatment is relatively benign, and in the case of hyperthyroidism, can often be normalized in three to six months with subsequent medication therapy less aggressive in nature.
Bottom line: Don’t simply assume that when a physician proclaims that you have an issue (i.e., high cholesterol) that you should begin to receive medication therapy to help reduce those cholesterol levels (given that diet and exercise did not lower the levels significantly). Ask why the cholesterol is high to begin with — you may find that they are high due to hypothyroidism. Remember: Knowledge is power!
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He may be reached at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.