The thyroid disorder can be diagnosed through a simple blood test
AS people get older, the common perception is that it is normal to suffer from health issues. While it may be true for some elderly folk, others may face health issues despite making the efforts to avoid the risks.
In such cases, they may be dealing with an abnormal function of the thyroid glands. Some of the symptoms mimic common ailments — severe constipation, difficulty swallowing and a dry cough, weight gain, itchy skin and hand tremors.
Consultant Endocrinologist Professor Dr Nor Azmi Kamaruddin says that problems with the thyroid, a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck, are often overlooked. Since the thyroid gland is essential in maintaining metabolism, a disruption in the hormone production can have serious consequences.
He says women above the age of 60 have a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland is unable to produce sufficient thyroid hormones compared with men. If left untreated, hypothyroidism could progress from mild (subclinical) to overt (full-blown).
Hypothyroidism is linked to increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood and could raise the risk of ischaemic heart disease and heart failure. It may also cause generalised muscle weakness leading to muscle, skeletal and mobility disorders among the elderly.
It can also cause decreased memory and slowed speech and thinking. 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.
Dr Nor Azmi, who is Chairman of Transform Your Life hypothyroidism programme, says it is not easy to diagnose hypothyroidism in the elderly as the common symptoms can easily be mistaken for normal ageing.
“Also the coexistence of multiple chronic diseases in the elderly as well as the side effects of medications can further mimic or mask the symptoms. In many cases, symptoms of hypothyroidism progress slowly and may go unnoticed for months or even years, making medical diagnosis difficult.”
Dr Nor Azmi says it is impossible to confirm hypothyroidism based on clinical symptoms alone. It is important for the elderly to check for hypothyroidism through a simple blood test at any clinic or hospital.
“Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial as thyroid disorders are often associated with increased sickness and death in the elderly.”
“Treatment is also relatively simple and affordable. You may be provided with thyroxine pills, a synthetic form of your thyroid hormones.”
Visit www.tyl.my to learn more about hypothyroidism in the elderly.
Article contributed by Malaysian Endocrine and Metabolic Society under the Transform Your Life programme, supported by Merck.