Several studies referring to those over 65 years show that thyroid illness is very much a disease of the elderly and that it often goes undiagnosed. Although the incidence of thyroid problems increases with age, it is sometimes difficult to diagnose as symptoms are not always as widespread or obvious as those in younger patients.
Symptoms that indicate hyperthyroidism in older people
1.High cholesterol: Thyroid hormones play a vital role in removing excess from the body via the liver. Low hormone levels mean that the liver struggles to carry out this function and blood cholesterol levels can increase. Research suggests that up to 13 percent of individuals with high cholesterol also have an underactive thyroid. As a result, many experts recommend that doctors routinely test people with high cholesterol for hypothyroidism.
Treating the thyroid problem may help reduce cholesterol levels, even in those who do not take cholesterol-lowering drugs.
- Constipation: Digestion is another body function that can slow down due to hypothyroidism. Studies have shown that an underactive thyroid can cause problems with movement through the gut and the activity of the stomach, small intestine, and colon.
These digestive changes cause some people to experience constipation.
Doctors typically define constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements a week. A person may also have hard stools, difficulty passing stool, or a feeling of being unable to empty the rectum fully.
3. Heart Failure: Reduced blood volume, weaker contractions of the heart muscle, and a slower heart rate are all caused by low thyroid hormone levels and this can contribute to heart failure.
People with hypothyroidism may have a slower heart rate, or bradycardia. Low thyroid levels can affect the heart in other ways too. These effects may include:
- changes in blood pressure
- variations in heart rhythm
- fewer elastic arteries
- Hair Loss: When hormone disorders are left untreated, including thyroid problems, it can lead to hair loss. This is because thyroid hormones are essential for the growth and health of hair follicles. Hypothyroidism may cause hair loss from the:
- other body parts
- Psychiatric problems: Clinical depression is a common symptom in younger people with hypothyroidism which can also affect older people with the condition.
The difference is that in older people it can be the only hypothyroidism symptom. Some older adults also develop psychosis with delusional behavior or hallucinations
6. Menstrual Changes: People with an underactive thyroid may experience heavy or irregular menstrual periods or spotting between periods.
According to the Society of Menstrual Cycle Research, hypothyroidism causes these problems because it affects other hormones that play a role in menstruation, such as by:
- impairing the detoxification of estrogen
- reducing the amount of sex hormone-binding globulin.
- High Cholesterol: Thyroid hormones play a vital role in removing excess from the body via the liver. Low hormone levels mean that the liver struggles to carry out this function and blood cholesterol levels can increase. High cholesterol is sometimes the only evidence of an underactive thyroid in an older person. Because this sign may stand alone, high cholesterol warrants a thyroid evaluation
- Cognitive decline: Older people with a very underactive thyroid gland can sometimes be misdiagnosed as dementia. That’s why doctors usual order thyroid testing in people with new cognitive decline. If you or a loved one is being evaluated for dementia, make sure that a thyroid test is part of the evaluation.
When to see a doctor
It is vital for people with unexplained fatigue or other signs or symptoms of hypothyroidism to see a doctor. Without treatment, an underactive thyroid can lead to serious complications, such as infertility, obesity, and heart disease.
A doctor can carry out a simple blood test to check a person’s thyroid hormone levels. Treatment for hypothyroidism involves taking synthetic thyroid hormones. These medications are safe and effective once a person takes the right dose.
Dr Ifedapo Olaniyi