Hypothyroidism - UNDER-active Thyroid

General Information
The thyroid is a small gland found in the lower front of the neck. The hormones secreted by the thyroid gland are important for normal metabolism. Disease of the thyroid gland occurs with increased frequency in elderly patients. This increased frequency is largely due to hypothyroidism, or underfunctioning of the thyroid gland. The other major thyroid problem in elderly patients is the development of nodules or lumps in the thyroid gland.

Hypothyroidism is more common in women than in men. It is also more common in people in institutions (such as nursing homes) than in those who remain at home.

Hypothyroidism is most often a result of inflammation of the thyroid gland, called thyroiditis. Thyroiditis is a result of abnormal immune reactions by the body against the thyroid gland. Underfunction can also be a result of treatment with radioactive iodine given many years earlier to treat an overactive thyroid gland. Surgical removal of part of the thyroid gland also is a factor in the development of hypothyroidism.

In younger patients, hypothyroidism is manifested by fatigue, dry skin, and constipation. In elderly patients, the signs and symptoms are not so specific. The dry skin, fatigue, and depressive affect occur, but there also is weight loss, decreased appetite, incoordination, confusion, and falls. Many of the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism in the elderly can be mistakenly attributed to old age. Some elderly patients with hypothyroidism appear to have no symptoms.

Important Points in Treatment
Hypothyroidism is readily treatable. Treatment involves the use of replacement thyroid hormone. The course of treatment is gradual. The hormone is replaced in steps to remain within the tolerance limits of the patient. In elderly patients who may have other health problems, there is limited tolerance for sudden adjustments of thyroid hormone.

Notify Our Office If ...

  • You notice the onset of persistent tiredness or fatigue.
  • You notice the development of dry skin or intolerance of cold temperatures.