Thyroid Awareness Month: Signs, Prevention Tips and Treatments for Seniors
January is Thyroid Awareness Month, which means it’s an ideal time to support awareness about thyroid disease in seniors. Here is our guide to thyroid disease from our home health aides in NJ, which include signs, prevention tips, and treatments.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a small gland that sits low on the front of the neck, below your Adam’s apple, and is shaped a bit like a butterfly or bowtie. Its job is to secrete several important hormones that run vital functions in the body. These hormones regulate metabolism, growth, and development – controlling heart function, body temperature, and digestion specifically. They’re also responsible for regulating brain development in children.
These processes are complex, with the pituitary gland in the brain sending signals to the thyroid to produce and release precise amounts of the hormones needed to run these functions in the body.
What are thyroid disease symptoms and treatment?
Thyroid disease is a group of health conditions that affect the function of the thyroid gland. This includes:
- Hyperthyroidism – This is the production of too much thyroid hormone, which speeds up your metabolism to cause a rapid heart rate, weight loss, anxiety, shakiness, excessive sweating, brittle bones, and poor sleeping. This can be caused by Grave’s Disease, adenoma, or thyroiditis. It is a serious condition if left untreated, but the good news is that it is usually easy to treat using radioactive iodine, anti-thyroid medications, beta-blockers, or a thyroidectomy in rare cases.
- Hypothyroidism – This is an underactive thyroid, which can slow your metabolism, make you feel overly fatigued and cold, as well as cause weight gain. It is quite common in people of all ages and ethnicities, but is especially common in senior women. It can also be caused by thyroiditis, an iodine deficiency in your diet, or by an autoimmune disease. Without treatment, it can cause heart failure, mental health issues, and an enlargement of the thyroid gland called a goiter. It can be easily treated by taking a supplementary amount of thyroid hormone.
- Hashimoto’s disease – Also called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, this thyroid disease is an autoimmune condition where your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. The symptoms are the same as hypothyroidism and the treatment also includes taking a thyroid hormone supplement.
- Grave’s disease – Grave’s disease is also an immune system condition, but it has similar symptoms to that of hyperthyroidism. In addition, it can cause bulging and pressure behind the eyes, and thickening of the skin. Again, older women are at higher risk for this condition. Treatment will usually include taking radioactive iodine to bring down the very high levels of thyroid hormone in your system.
Preventing thyroid disease
There’s no way to effectively prevent thyroid disease, as it is not known what triggers these conditions and the related autoimmune problems. Being aware of the risk factors and talking to your doctor about thyroid conditions can help you detect thyroid diseases early and manage them properly to prevent long-term complications like brittle bones, excessive weight gain, and heart problems.
Risk factors include:
- Being female
- Being over the age of 60
- History or family history of thyroid problems or autoimmune conditions
- If you have received radiation treatment
- If you have an iodine deficiency or too much iodine
Having a regular blood test and thyroid checkup, as well as being aware of the symptoms of these conditions is the best way to deal with this group of diseases. As always, a balanced diet, regular exercise, limited alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking are also recommended.
All members of our in-home senior care team are aware of these conditions and can help seniors manage these symptoms at home. Proper medication management, making sure your loved one is eating well and encouraging safe exercise are all ways in which our at-home caregivers can help.
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