The thyroid gland is found on the front of your neck. It is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that produces T3 and T4 hormones. These hormones regulate many body processes, including metabolism and energy production. Thyroid problems affect people of all ages. However, it’s more prevalent in women and older people. Studies show that diagnosing thyroid disease in older people is more difficult as the symptoms do not manifest like in young people.

This article seeks to understand the thyroid gland and its functions. We’ll also explore thyroid diseases, the types, causes, symptoms in older people, and treatment.

Understanding the Thyroid?

Your body has several glands producing hormones to maintain proper bodily functions.

The thyroid gland plays a vital role in your body by regulating metabolism by producing thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) hormones.

These two hormones act on cells throughout your body to keep your metabolic processes running seamlessly. They also affect your sensitivity to stressors like cold temperatures or exercise.

Note: If your body produces thyroid hormone in excess, you develop a condition known as hyperthyroidism, and too little leads to hypothyroidism. These conditions are serious; as such, you must seek treatment immediately. You can talk your doctor for a simple blood test to check and a hypothyroidism specialist to get control over your condition and the right balance of T3 and T4 in your medication.

What are the Functions of the Thyroid Gland?

  • The main purpose of the thyroid gland is to produce T3 and T4 hormones. These hormones regulate the utilization of energy in your body. These hormones also control the amount of oxygen the cells use.
  • Thyroid hormones help maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels, keep bones strong, and control body temperature.
  • Thyroid hormones play a crucial role in growth and development during childhood by influencing brain activity and cognitive abilities.
  • The thyroid also controls nervous system function and development.
  • It also works with the pituitary glands, which regulate the amount of hormones your thyroid produces.
  • Your thyroid hormone also affects your fertility, skin, and bone maintenance.

Note: An adequate supply of iodine in your diet for proper thyroid gland function.

Understanding Thyroid Diseases

Thyroid disease is a medical disorder that causes the overproduction or underproduction of hormones. And in turn, it interferes with the bodily functions regulated by the thyroid hormones.

For instance, if your thyroid produces excess thyroid hormones, your body will utilize the energy produced much faster. And this can lead to increase heart, excess weight loss, or make you too nervous. And if it produces insufficient thyroid hormones, you will tend to feel lethargic, gain weight, and be unable to handle cold temperatures.

Types of Thyroid Disease

Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are the two common thyroid disorders.


Excessive production of thyroid hormones by thyroid glands leads to hyperthyroidism. The overproduction causes your body to utilize too much energy, leading to symptoms like rapid heartbeats or heart failure.

What causes hyperthyroidism

  • Thyroid nodules
  • Postpartum thyroiditis
  • Having too much iodine in your system
  • Overuse of hypothyroidism medication
  • Grave’s disease
  • Thyroiditis
  • Malignant tumors in your pituitary gland

Other symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Sweating
  • Shaking hands and feet
  • Irritability
  • Protruding eyes
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fatigue.

In extreme cases, it leads to an irregular heartbeat, increasing stroke risk.


Inflammation of the thyroid gland leads to hypothyroidism. And this lead to the underproduction of thyroid hormones, meaning you lack sufficient energy for everyday functions.

What causes hypothyroidism

  • Inflammation of the thyroid gland
  • Hashimoto’s disease
  • Iodine deficiency
  • Overuse of hyperthyroidism medication
  • Removal of the thyroid gland
  • Improper functioning of the thyroid gland

Signs of Hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Weight gain
  • Cold intolerance
  • Depression

If you have hypothyroidism, schedule regular checkups and ensure you are in control of your hormone levels. This is because if the condition is left untreated, it can result in heart failure or coma.

Other forms of thyroid diseases include:


Thyroiditis is the inflammation of the thyroid gland. A virus or bacteria usually causes it, and if left untreated can result in hypothyroidism.

Symptoms of Thyroiditis include:

  • Pain in the neck
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Swelling of the throat area
  • Increased sensitivity to cold temperatures.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when your antibodies attack and destroy healthy thyroid tissue, leading to hypothyroidism.

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • dry skin
  • constipation
  • depression
  • weight
  • Left untreated can cause severe damage, such as heart failure.

Thyroid Cancer

This is a type of cancer that starts in your thyroid tissues. Studies show that more than 53,000 in the U.S are diagnosed with thyroid cancer yearly. However, note that thyroid cancer can be cured successfully when detected early.

There are different types of thyroid cancers, and they are classified according to the cells they affect. They include:

  • Papillary
  • Follicular
  • Medullary
  • Anaplastic


This is a condition where your thyroid gland becomes enlarged. And it can cause the development of small lumps called thyroid nodules. Goiter can be due to over or under-production of thyroid hormones. And other times, it can develop even if the hormone levels are normal.

Different types of goiter include:

  • Simple goiter occurs when your thyroid gland swells and feels soft to the touch.
  • Nodular goiter occurs when your thyroid gland secrets a fluid-filled lump called a nodule.
  • Multinodular goiter occurs when you have many lumps in your thyroid glands. They can be discovered visually or through a scan.

People diagnosed with goiter will likely be obese and develop insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome.

How are Thyroid Diseases Diagnosed?

Thyroid diseases are not to diagnose, especially in older people, as the symptoms are difficult to detect, unlike in young people. Other times, the symptoms are confused with those of other conditions.

Luckily, some examinations can be used to diagnose thyroid disorders, and they include:

  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests
  • Physical exams

Blood tests

A thyroid blood test is a common method of diagnosing thyroid disease. The blood is analyzed to show the amount of thyroid hormones in your blood, thus, indicating whether your thyroid is working as required.

A blood test tests thyroid disorders associated with hyper and hypothyroidism. The blood tests measure the levels (T3 and T4) to determine whether they are too high or low.

Imaging scans

This type of scan allows your physician to check whether you have lumps or an increased thyroid gland size. Then, your doctor usually conducts an ultrasound, which takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

Physical exams

Your doctor can check your thyroid by physically feeling your thyroid and checking whether you have any growth or lumps. It’s simple and painless but inconclusive, as you could have small nodes not detectable by touch.

Who is at Risk of Getting Thyroid Disease?

Thyroid diseases affect men and women. However, studies show that women are more predisposed to the condition due to high chances of hormonal imbalances. Thyroid disorder affects people above 20; the older you get, the higher the stakes.

That said, certain factors increase the risk of developing thyroid problems. These are

  • Age (above 60 years)
  • Medication that has high levels of iodine
  • Certain chronic conditions, such as type 1 or 2 diabetes and Grave’s disease
  • Family history of thyroid problems
  • Female (especially after giving birth or menopause)

What Causes Thyroid Disease?

Thyroid disorder in older people may be due to:

  • Genetics
  • Lifestyle risk factors include smoking, psychological stress, injury to the thyroid, and medication with high amounts of iodine and lithium.
  • Pregnancy
  • Pituitary gland disorders
  • Exposure to radiation from nuclear accidents or medical treatments involving X-rays

Symptoms of thyroid disorders in older people

Since thyroid problems are hard t diagnose in older people, see your doctor and ensure a thyroid test is included if you display the following symptoms.

  • High levels of cholesterol
  • Heart failure
  • Changes in your bowels movement
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint aches
  • Psychological problems, including depression
  • Significant cognitive decline

Treatment for Thyroid Diseases

Treatment for any type of thyroid disorder depends on the severity.


Hyperthyroidism is treated using medications such as thionamides. They help stop your thyroid from producing excess hormones. The common types of drugs include carbimazole and propylthiouracil. You’ll be required to take the medicine for 12 to 18 months.

It can also be treated with radioactive iodine treatment. But not suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Your doctor may also prescribe a beta blocker to help relieve your symptoms. As your thyroid heals, your dosage will also be reduced.

During the first few months of taking the drugs, you will experience side effects, aching joints, stomachache, itchy rash, headaches, and increased temperatures. These will ebb as your body adjusts to the medication.


It can be treated by taking a synthetic T4 hormone called levothyroxine. It can be taken as a pill or injected into your body. Synthetic levothyroxine replaces the thyroxine hormone, which is insufficient in your gland.

You’ll be required to take blood tests regularly till the correct levels are achieved.

Some side effects include chest pains, sweating, diarrhea, and headaches. And they disappear as your body adjusts to the treatment.


Treatment typically involves antibiotics for bacterial cases, while viral infections may require corticosteroids or nonsteroidal medication to reduce the swelling. Surgery may be recommended in rare cases.

Hashimoto’s thyroid

It is treated with a synthetic T4 hormone (levothyroxine) replacement therapy along with antibiotics if bacterial infection is suspected.


  • Medication such as levothyroxine (Levothroid and Synthroid)
  • Radioactive iodine treatment
  • Surgery

Thyroid cancers

  • Thyroidectomy: this is a surgery that removes parts or the entire thyroid gland
  • Radioactive iodine treatment: you are given radioactive pills that travel through your system, killing all the cancerous cells.
  • External radiotherapy is a machine that produces radiation beams that kill cancerous cells.
  • Chemotherapy

The treatment given depends on the type of cancer.

Foods to Consume to Improve Your Thyroid Function

Include these foods in your everyday diet to enhance your thyroid function.

  • Roasted seaweed as they are rich in iodine
  • Salted nuts as they are rich in selenium, which supports healthy thyroid function. These include hazelnuts, macadamia, and Brazil nuts.
  • Baked fish as it’s rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation. Best fish include sea bass, perch, and haddock.
  • Fresh eggs as they are rich in iodine and selenium.
  • Dairy products. These include milk, ice cream, and yogurt.
  • You can also take iodine supplements.

Final Thoughts

Although thyroid problems can affect anyone regardless of age or gender, older adults and women are more predisposed to develop thyroid diseases. Other thyroid risk factors include pregnancy, genetics, and lifestyle habits like smoking.

So, as you age, schedule a thyroid gland check to ensure all issues are detected and treated before they worsen. Above all, ensure you are taking a proper diet.

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