Some parts of our bodies have clear purposes: our eyes are for seeing, our lungs for breathing, our hearts for pumping blood. Other parts of our bodies provide functions that not so obvious, but nonetheless important. The thyroid is one such body part. Where is it, what does it do, and what happens when something goes wrong?
What is Your Thyroid?
Your thyroid is a symmetrical, butterfly-shaped gland that wraps around the front of your windpipe. It produces several hormones that are essential to regulating growth, metabolism, and body temperature. In addition to hormones, the thyroid also houses numerous blood vessels and nerves.
Symptoms of Thyroid Problems
The most common thyroid problems occur when the gland produces either too much or too little of the hormones necessary for regulating the body’s functions. Often, the symptoms of thyroid problems are difficult to identify. A malfunctioning thyroid may lead to anything from depression to high blood pressure.
Among older adults, hypothyroidism – that is, low production of thyroid hormones – is much more common than hyperthyroidism, when the thyroid produces too many hormones. Approximately 1 in 5 women over the age of 60 have some form of thyroid disease. Because many of the symptoms of thyroid disease are also associated with aging, many older adults do not get properly diagnosed with thyroid problems.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Lethargy or excessive sleepiness
- Slower mental processing or poor memory
- Depression or sadness
- Dry skin or hair
- Slow heart rate
- Numbness or tingling in extremities
- Feeling cold
- Poor hearing
On the other hand, common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Weight loss or change in appetite
- Fast heart rate, high blood pressure, or heart palpitations
- Anxiety or irritability
- Excessive sweating
- Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
- Muscle aches or weakness
When You Spot Symptoms
Thyroid conditions can be hard to identify because their symptoms may also be attributed to many other conditions. It’s always best to talk to your doctor, who may perform a thyroid evaluation through physical examination and a simple blood test. In cases when your doctor suspects cancer or thyroid nodules may be the culprit, she may perform a biopsy or an ultrasound to make a diagnosis.
Treatment for thyroid disorders vary. Your doctor may prescribe medications to slow production of thyroid hormones or to replace hormones your thyroid is not producing. In some cases, doctors may recommend radiation treatments or surgery.
Many health problems, including thyroid disorders, may be an inevitable part of getting older. But other concerns, such as worry about how you’ll pay for any long-term care you might need, don’t need to be part of your future. Life Care Funding can help you plan ahead for long-term care. Contact us today with your questions, comments, or stories.