Most people brush the signs off as normal aging: gaining weight; losing energy; repeatedly searching the house for the keys. But in many cases, particularly in women past age 50, a small, butterfly-shaped gland that polices metabolism causes the chaos.
“It’s often found incidentally, meaning we were looking for something else,” Dr. Heather Hartshorn of the North Suburban Medical Center says of thyroid disorder. Frequently, a simple blood test, which should be done during annual exams, and medication can resolve the problem.
“It’s not uncommon for the thyroid gland to begin losing its strength after age 50,” says Dr. Kimberly Vanderveen, with Rose Medical Center. Although thyroid disorders strike men, too, experts suspect a hormone connection leaves women disproportionately affected.
If the gland, which wraps around the windpipe just below the “Adam’s apple,” releases too little hormone (hypothyroidism), fatigue, weight gain, memory loss, cold intolerance, hair loss, dry skin and brittle nails can ensue, Hartshorn says. If it releases too much hormone (hyperthyroidism), anxiety, racing heart, hot flashes and weight loss are common symptoms.
Sometimes, a nodule or lump in the gland can cause the problems and is frequently benign, but thyroid cancer would have to be ruled out, Hartshorn says.
Diagnosis and treatment have come a long way, and the bottom line is people shouldn’t live with these symptoms, Vanderveen says. “If someone isn’t feeling well, they should go in for an exam.”
Learn more: Denver Endocrine Surgery Center
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