Your Thyroid Does Change As You Age
As with any organ, your thyroid may start to function differently as you get older.
Thyroid dysfunction generally occurs in either early adulthood or between the ages of 40 to 50, Lee said. As we get into our 70s, TSH naturally increases, meaning that your thyroid hormone levels may shift to be a little lower. This seems to happen to protect our bodies as we age, with less stress on our heart and metabolic system.
This is important to note, Lee said, because it gives physicians a greater threshold to treat someone who is older who may have higher TSH levels. Alternatively, low TSH levels can be more harmful the older we get.
This isnt to say that if youre young, you dont need to think about your thyroid at all. Thyroid disorders can happen at many different ages, as can lumps.
We do know that the younger population, those in their 20s, 30s and 40s, can develop thyroid nodules, Rao said. The vast majority of these nodules, especially if theyre below one centimeter, are 95% of the time completely benign. But its still important to be aware that they are there, and periodically monitor them.
When To See Your Healthcare Provider
If you have thyroid symptoms, visit your healthcare provider. To find out what’s going on, they may:
- Give you a physical exam
- Ask questions about your medical history
- Ask for details about your symptoms
- Give you a blood test to check your thyroid levels
- Order imaging tests, such as a thyroid scan or ultrasound
In most cases, thyroid conditions can be effectively treated.
Thyroid Disease Doctor Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide for your next doctor’s appointment to help you ask the right questions.
- Loss of consciousness
Hypothyroidism can lead to another medical emergency. It’s called myxedema coma.
Myxedema coma is rare. It’s triggered by trauma, infection, cold, and some medications. It causes body temperatures and blood pressure to drop. You may lose consciousness. This condition can cause death.
How Do You Know If You Have A Thyroid Disease
Experts suspect that most people with a thyroid disease dont even know that they have one.
If youre plagued with symptoms such as trouble sleeping, heart palpitations, fatigue, or sensitivity to cold and are unaware of the cause, the fact is you might be suffering from a thyroid disease.
Thyroid disease affects approximately 20 million people in the U.S.
It can affect every system in your body and may dramatically impact your energy levels and mood, so diagnosis is important.
Unfortunately, many of these conditions are generally not preventable and are often hereditary.
Knowing your family history can help you stay one step ahead of complications from a thyroid disorder and related conditions, says Dr. Haytham Kawji, board-certified endocrinologist at St. Francis Endocrinology.
If you have a family history of thyroid disease, or any other hormonal condition like osteoporosis or uncontrolled diabetes, your physician will likely refer you to an endocrinologist .
Two of the most common diseases treated by endocrinologists are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
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What Does The Thyroid Do
Your thyroid is the metabolic center of your body. This means it controls your body temperature, heart rate, and how fast you use calories from your food for energy. The thyroid produces hormones that then travel throughout the different parts and areas of your body to better support its functioning.
Functional Medicine Approach To Thyroid Disorders
In addition to ordering tests, a functional medicine doctor will assess all the factors that could be affecting your thyroids normal function. This includes asking questions like:
- Do you have any nutritional deficiencies?
- Could you have an autoimmune thyroid issue?
- Is there a nodule present on your thyroid?
- Did you have any prior infections or toxicities?
- Do you have any digestive issues or food sensitivities?
- What are your other hormones doing?
Functional medicine doesnt just assess the whole picture when it comes to your thyroid disorder. It looks at why it isnt functioning optimally and determines the root cause of the dysfunction. Common root causes of thyroid issues are adrenal dysfunction, poor gut health, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, low activity levels, lack of sleep, and chronic stress.
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How Is Postpartum Thyroiditis Treated
Treatment for postpartum thyroiditis depends on the phase of the disease and what symptoms you have. For example, if you get symptoms of hyperthyroidism in the first phase, your treatment may include medicines to slow down the heart rate.
In most women who have postpartum thyroiditis, the thyroid returns to normal within 12 to 18 months after symptoms start. But if you have a history of postpartum thyroiditis, your risk is higher for developing permanent hypothyroidism within 5 to 10 years.5
Diagnosing An Underactive Thyroid
It’s very important that an underactive thyroid is diagnosed as soon as possible.
Low levels of thyroid-producing hormones, such as triiodothyronine and thyroxine , can change the way the body processes fat.
- are pregnant or trying to get pregnant
- have just given birth
- have another health condition, such as heart disease, which may complicate your medication
- are taking a medication known to cause a reduction in thyroid hormones, such as amiodarone or lithium
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Symptoms Of An Underactive Thyroid
Many symptoms of an underactive thyroid are the same as those of other conditions, so it can easily be confused for something else.
Symptoms usually develop slowly and you may not realise you have a medical problem for several years.
Common symptoms include:
- pain, numbness and a tingling sensation in the hand and fingers
- irregular periods or heavy periods
Elderly people with an underactive thyroid may develop memory problems and depression. Children may experience slower growth and development. Teenagers may start puberty earlier than normal.
If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP and ask to be tested for an underactive thyroid.
Read more about getting tested for an underactive thyroid
How Are Thyroid Nodules Treated
Treatment depends on the type of nodule or nodules that you have. Treatments include:
- Watchful waiting. If your nodule is not cancerous, your doctor may decide to just watch your condition. You will get regular physical exams, blood tests, and perhaps thyroid ultrasound tests. If your nodule does not change, you may not need further treatment.
- Surgery. Surgery may be necessary to take out nodules that may be cancerous or large nodules that cause problems breathing or swallowing.
- Radioiodine. This type of treatment is helpful if you have nodules that make too much thyroid hormone. Radioiodine causes nodules to shrink and make smaller amounts of thyroid hormone.
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If Part Of My Thyroid Is Surgically Removed Will The Other Part Be Able To Make Enough Thyroid Hormones To Keep Me Off Of Medication
Sometimes, your surgeon may be able to remove part of your thyroid and leave the other part so that it can continue to create and release thyroid hormones. This is most likely in situations where you have a nodule thats causing your thyroid problem. About 75% of people who have only one side of the thyroid removed are able to make enough thyroid hormone after surgery without hormone replacement therapy.
Absent Or Infrequent Menstruation
Patients experiencing hypothyroidism can also experience hyperprolactinemia, or excess of prolactin hormone. This can cause a thinning of the uterine wall, which means the egg finds it more difficult to implant.³
This can present as extremely light periods. Changes in prolactin hormone levels can also cause menstrual periods to stop altogether or occur infrequently.
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Common Signs And Symptoms Of A Thyroid Problem
Your thyroid is the size of a butterfly-shaped lemon, but even though it’s small, it’s mighty. The thyroid gland makes hormones that support many bodily functions, such as breathing, pumping blood and burning calories. Most of the time, the thyroid does what it’s supposed to do, but sometimes a problem can cause it to produce too little or too much hormone. Depending on the underlying issue, this can lead to a range of symptoms, like fatigue, anxiety and weight changes.
If you’re wondering how to know whether you have a thyroid problem, it’s important to note that only a healthcare provider can give you an actual diagnosis, which will require tests and a clinical exam. However, your body will likely send you a few clues. Here are 21 common signs and symptoms of a thyroid problem to watch out for.
Knowing When To Check Your Thyroid
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What Causes Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism has several causes. They include:
- Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attacks your thyroid and causes it to make too much hormone. This is the most common cause.
- Thyroid nodules, which are growths on your thyroid. They are usually benign . But they may become overactive and make too much thyroid hormone. Thyroid nodules are more common in older adults.
- Thyroiditis, inflammation of the thyroid. It causes stored thyroid hormone to leak out of your thyroid gland.
- Too much iodine. Iodine is found in some medicines, cough syrups, seaweed and seaweed-based supplements. Taking too much of them can cause your thyroid to make too much thyroid hormone.
- Too much thyroid medicine. This can happen if people who take thyroid hormone medicine for hypothyroidism take too much of it.
Signs Of Thyroid Trouble
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists estimates that 30 million Americans have some kind of thyroid disorder. That’s a surprising number but even more startling is that up to 50% of people with thyroid disease aren’t even aware that they have it.
“Its common for people to chalk up some thyroid symptoms fatigue, irritability, sleep problems to general life stress,” says Tiffany Hor, MD, an endocrinologist at Rush.
Such nonspecific symptoms are often easy to ignore, but the consequences of postponing diagnosis and treatment can be serious: Over the long term, untreated thyroid issues can lead to health complications ranging from an increased risk of osteoporosis to cardiovascular issues.
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The Role Of Your Thyroid
First, its good to know what your thyroid does in the body. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland right near the larynx that produces hormones, said Naresh Rao, a board-certified family medicine physician, partner at Sports Medicine at Chelsea and founder of Max Sports Health in New York City.
The thyroids main function is to produce triiodothyronine and thyroxine , which help regulate almost all bodily functions, including your weight, metabolism, energy levels and body temperature, as well as how your skin, hair and nails grow.
Theres also something called the thyroid-stimulating hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland and tells your thyroid to make more T3 and T4. There are tests to check your TSH, T3 and T4 levels, all of which can tell doctors if you have a thyroid problem.
Symptoms: What You Might Notice If You Have Hypothyroidism
While the symptoms of hypothyroidism vary from person to person, depending on the severity of the condition and different environmental factors, those with hypothyroidism might notice the following signs:
Dry skin, hair, and nails
Tingling or numbness of the extremities
Loss of sex drive
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it may be time to get your thyroid hormone levels checked.
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Is One Worse Or More Dangerous Than The Other
Not necessarily. You can experience both, although hypothyroidism is more common than hyperthyroidism. Both conditions can become a problem during pregnancy, as hormones are in flux. This is why women who have thyroid disease get tested more frequently during pregnancy and may need to be prescribed medication and/or change doses.
What Is The Thyroid
The thyroid is a small organ located at the base of your neck. Its job is to create and produce hormones. These hormones move through the body, helping to control the various activities of organs, cells, and tissues. In a healthy person, the thyroid produces the right amount of hormone to regulate these functions properly. However, sometimes the thyroid can produce too much or too little hormone, leading to changes in the way the body functions. When there is too much or too little produced, its called thyroid disease. There are several types of diseases that may occur.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland. There are various glands throughout the body. All of them have the specific job of creating and releasing hormones to help your body function. The thyroid creates hormones for numerous vital functions in the body, including breathing and heart rate. When the thyroid doesnt work as it should, it can lead to an impact on other organs.
For example, in those with hypothyroidism, it does not produce enough hormone. In hyperthyroidism, it produces too much. Both have an impact on whats happening in your body.
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Heavy Or Irregular Periods
Both irregular and heavy menstrual bleeding are linked to hypothyroidism.
One study showed that about 40% of women with low thyroid hormone experienced increasing menstrual irregularity or heavy bleeding in the last year, compared to 26% of women with normal thyroid levels .
In another study, 30% of women with hypothyroidism had irregular and heavy periods. These women had been diagnosed with hypothyroidism after other symptoms had caused them to get tested .
Thyroid hormone interacts with other hormones that control the menstrual cycle, and abnormal levels of it can disrupt their signals. Also, thyroid hormone directly affects the ovaries and uterus.
There are several problems besides hypothyroidism that can cause heavy or irregular periods. If you have irregular or heavy periods that disrupt your lifestyle, consider talking with a gynecologist before worrying about your thyroid.
Summary: Heavy periods or irregular cycles that are worse than usual could be caused by a medical condition, including hypothyroidism. Its best to talk to a gynecologist about them.
You Have Painful Extremities Or Muscles
Sometimes you stub a toe or work out too hardthat kind of pain can be explained away. But if you have mysterious or sudden tingling or numbnessor actual painin your arms, legs, feet, or hands, that could be a sign of hypothyroidism. Over time, producing too little thyroid hormone can damage the nerves that send signals from your brain and spinal cord throughout your body. The result is those “unexplained” tingles and twinges.
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How Is Thyroid Disease Treated
Your healthcare providers goal is to return your thyroid hormone levels to normal. This can be done in a variety of ways and each specific treatment will depend on the cause of your thyroid condition.
If you have high levels of thyroid hormones , treatment options can include:
- Anti-thyroid drugs : These are medications that stop your thyroid from making hormones.
- Radioactive iodine: This treatment damages the cells of your thyroid, preventing it from making high levels of thyroid hormones.
- Beta blockers: These medications dont change the amount of hormones in your body, but they help manage your symptoms.
- Surgery: A more permanent form of treatment, your healthcare provider may surgically remove your thyroid . This will stop it from creating hormones. However, you will need to take thyroid replacement hormones for the rest of your life.
If you have low levels of thyroid hormones , the main treatment option is:
- Thyroid replacement medication: This drug is a synthetic way to add thyroid hormones back into your body. One drug thats commonly used is called levothyroxine. By using a medication, you can manage thyroid disease and live a normal life.
Who Is More Likely To Develop Hypothyroidism
Women are much more likely than men to develop hypothyroidism. The disease is also more common among people older than age 60.1
You are more likely to have hypothyroidism if you
- had a thyroid problem before, such as a goiter
- had surgery or radioactive iodine to correct a thyroid problem
- received radiation treatment to the thyroid, neck, or chest
- have a family history of thyroid disease
- were pregnant in the past 6 months
- have Turner syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects women
Your thyroid is also more likely to be underactive if you have other health problems, including
- lupus, a chronic autoimmune inflammatory condition
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