Hypothyroidism is an autoimmune issue in which the thyroid cannot manufacture enough hormones to maintain healthy function in various parts of the body. This condition targets the endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production. Still, it can also impact other areas such as the brain, energy levels, metabolism, heart, bone density, skin and bowel movements, to name a few examples.
As the Endotext Journal reports, hypothyroidism in seniors is more common than in younger adults. Unfortunately, due to other age-related health concerns, the illness is often difficult to recognize. While the symptoms can be mild—or even unnoticeable at first—if untreated, the complications could turn serious. So on that note, here are some physical and mental signs to look for to help detect hypothyroidism in seniors.
Possible Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
When the thyroid is under-active, as is the case in those with hypothyroidism, this affects several organs that depend on thyroid hormones to function. The two hormones secreted from the thyroid are thyroxine and triiodothyronine, which regulate heartbeat, muscle contraction, body temperature, digestion and cell growth or replacement.
However, if the body struggles to perform these actions due to hypothyroidism, several symptoms can occur. Keep in mind that when it comes to hypothyroidism in seniors, the signs are less visible and non-specific, the Thyroid Research Journal points out. But it’s still helpful to be aware of these potential indicators, such as:
- Mental haziness or depression
- High blood pressure and cholesterol
- Heartburn or gastrointestinal discomfort
- Frequent constipation issues
- Slow metabolism or unexplained weight gain
- Joint, bone and muscle weakness
- Skin dryness, scaliness or jaundice
- Thinning hair and eyebrows
- Bloating, stomach pain or gallstones
- Shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat
- Inflammation in hands or feet
- Numbness or tingles in certain body parts
- Chronic fatigue or issues with sleep
- Intolerance to cold temperatures
If the symptoms continue to persist unchecked, over time, they will lead to more critical health conditions, warns the Thyroid Research Journal. In fact, hypothyroidism can have long-term implications on the endocrine, respiratory, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, circulatory, nervous and cranial systems. Therefore, it’s crucial to watch out for any signs.
How to Treat Hypothyroidism in Seniors
According to Cleveland Clinic, the most prevalent causes of hypothyroidism are:
- Inflammation of the thyroid (thyroiditis)
- Radiation or surgical removal of the thyroid
- Deficient levels of iodine (which the thyroid uses to manufacture hormones)
- Genetic predisposition to the illness
No matter the cause or symptoms, it’s diagnosed from a blood panel test, which measures the thyroid hormone levels to look for deficiencies and abnormalities.
After an initial diagnosis, the treatment course for hypothyroidism in seniors is straightforward. The most common protocol is hormone injection therapy to restore levels of triiodothyronine and thyroxine in the bloodstream. The dose amount and treatment length will vary from one patient to another, based on factors such as metabolic rate, body mass decline, pre-existing conditions or other medications being taken. In addition, the illness can sometimes be exacerbated from over-treatment.
Understanding the Signs of Hypothyroidism in Seniors
While it’s often difficult to notice the signs of hypothyroidism in seniors, this issue is common and must be taken seriously. As many as one in four nursing home residents could have an undiagnosed case of hypothyroidism, estimates the American Thyroid Association. Learn to recognize the symptoms—even mild issues could be indicative of a more severe problem.
If you have any questions or concerns, always reach out to your primary care physician.