An undetected thyroid disorder could be the underlying cause of your health complications.
We are all going through it in our lives. Some of us have it easier while others suffer through it. If you are still wondering what it is, look no further – it’s called ‘ageing’. But is it really true that ageing means having a number of medical conditions and learning to live with discomfort? Sadly, that may be the truth for many elderly, who despite their best efforts find it an uphill task to age healthily and well.
With that in mind, there is considerable debate about living longer but in good health or spending our additional years in poor health.1 Despite much advancement in medical technology, nutrition science and healthcare, there is still much to learn about the elderly’s health.
According to Professor Dr Nor Azmi Kamaruddin, Chairman of Transform Your Life hypothyroidism programme, changes occur in all body systems including the endocrine system, as we age.2 However, when the thyroid, a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck is overlooked, the elderly could be in for a bumpy ride.
Prof Nor Azmi, a consultant endocrinologist added: “There has been increasing interest in thyroid function in the elderly because of association of thyroid status with disability, cognitive function, cardiovascular disease risk, and longevity.2
“Women above 60 years have a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland is unable to produce sufficient thyroid hormones, compared with men.3 Hence, it’s important for elderly women to understand and recognise the symptoms of hypothyroidism so that they may seek medical advice if needed”.
Hypothyroidism often remains undetected
It is not easy to diagnose hypothyroidism because most of the symptoms, especially in mild cases (subclinical) are not specific.4 The classic symptoms, for instance, cannot tolerate cold, weight gain, dry skin, constipation, and mental and physical slowing, could easily be mistaken for normal ageing.5
Besides that, the coexistence of multiple chronic diseases in the elderly as well as the side effects of medications can further mimic or mask the symptoms.5
“In many cases, symptoms of hypothyroidism progress slowly and may go unnoticed for months or even years, making medical diagnosis difficult”,4 explained Prof Nor Azmi.
Hypothyroidism should be treated
Since the thyroid gland is essential in maintaining metabolism, a disruption in the hormone production can have serious consequences.6 When left untreated, hypothyroidism could progress from mild (subclinical) to overt (full-blown).4
Hypothyroidism has been associated with increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood and could raise the risk of ischaemic heart disease and heart failure.5,6 It may also cause generalised muscle weakness leading to muscle, skeletal and mobility disorders among the elderly.5
Furthermore, hypothyroidism may cause decreased memory and slowed speech and thinking.5 In fact, this thyroid disorder has long been recognised as a potentially reversible cause of cognitive impairment although it increases women’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.7
Take charge of your thyroid health
Prof Nor Azmi emphasised that it is impossible to confirm hypothyroidism based on clinical symptoms alone.4 Hence, it is important for the elderly to check for hypothyroidism through a simple blood test at any clinic or hospital.
“The most important reasons to treat hypothyroidism are to relieve symptoms and prevent the disorder from progressing.4 Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial as thyroid disorders are often associated with increased sickness and death in the elderly”,8 explained Prof Nor Azmi.
He added: “Treatment is also relatively simple and affordable. You may be provided with thyroxine pills, a synthetic form of your thyroid hormones.6 This medication could help you feel much better”.
Although ageing is inevitable, know that with a healthy lifestyle and regular health checks, you could be in good health. After all, it’s never too late to start taking care of yourself.
- S Department of Health and Human Services, World Health Organisation. Global Health and Aging. Maryland: World Health Organisation; 2011 Oct. 32 p.
- Aggarwal N, Razwi S. Thyroid and Aging or the Aging Thyroid? An Evidence-Based Analysis of the Literature. Journal of Thyroid Research. 2013; 2013, Article ID 481287, 8 p.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Hypothyroidism [Internet]. 2016. [cited 2016 Sep 14]. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/endocrine/hypothyroidism/Pages/fact-sheet.aspx
- Bensenor IM, Olmos RD, Lotufo PA. Hypothyroidism in the elderly: diagnosis and management. Clinical Interventions in Aging 2012:7 97–111.
- Rehman SU, Cope DW, Senseney AD, Brzezinski W. Thyroid disorders in elderly patients. South Med J. 2005 May;98(5):543-9.
- University of Maryland Medical Centre. Hypothyroidism [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2016 Sep 14]. Available from: http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/hypothyroidism
- Tan ZS, Beiser A, Vasan RS, Au R, Auerbach S, Kiel DP, Wolf PA, Seshadri S.Thyroid Function and the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease: The Framingham Study. Arch Intern Med. 2008; 168(14): 1514–1520.
- Mitrou P, Raptis SA, Dimitriadis G. Thyroid disease in older people. Maturitas. 2011; 70(1):5-9