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Understanding Thyroid Disease

Is it hypothyroidism or the typical signs of aging? Learn about when you should see a doctor to tell the difference.

Understanding Thyroid Disease

With age comes wisdom, but getting older can also lead to feeling tired more easily, dry skin and constipation. These symptoms are also the side effects of hypothyroidism. Approximately 10 million Americans have the condition, which is most common in women and people over age 60. About 10 percent of women have some degree of thyroid hormone deficiency and don’t even know it, as it is often missed or mistaken for other conditions.

It can be hard to tell the difference between the normal side effects of aging and a possible thyroid condition. The thyroid’s main function is to produce hormones that regulate how your body uses and stores energy. If it’s not producing enough T3 and T4 hormone, everything slows down. If you notice a change in the way you used to feel and have any of the following symptoms, ask your doctor to rule out a thyroid condition:

• Feeling tired or sluggish
• Feeling cold
• Gaining weight (about 5 to 10 pounds)
• Feeling depressed
• Having dry skin and hair
• Being constipated
• Having irregular menstrual cycles

Because the symptoms are so variable and non-specific, a simple blood test is the only way to rule out a thyroid condition. The blood test will measure hormones and your doctor will check to see if there is an imbalance. If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you will likely be prescribed a synthetic thyroid hormone pill that needs to be taken daily. Finding the right dose may take time, so you may see your doctor more frequently right after diagnosis until they find the perfect dose for you.

Don’t dismiss the symptoms of hypothyroidism. It’s especially important to take your thyroid medication (if prescribed) because unmanaged hypothyroidism can lead to high cholesterol, heart disease and a life-threatening condition called myxedema coma if left untreated. Hypothyroidism has no cure, and treatment is a life-long commitment. When your thyroid hormones are well controlled, you should see the side effects improve with no other adverse health implications.

Since thyroid diseases run in families, talk to your family members and encourage them to get regular blood tests if you have the condition. After being diagnosed with hypothyroidism, maintain yearly blood tests and check-ups with your endocrinologist as hormone needs can change as you age. Also, alert your doctor if you become pregnant since this will likely require a change in your medication.

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