A Harvard Medical School report says that for people over 60, symptoms of hypothyroidism can be more confusing. Any of the following health issues in a person over 60, alone or in combination, could mean an underlying thyroid problem.
- Unexplained high cholesterol. High cholesterol is sometimes the only evidence of an underactive thyroid in an older person. Because this may be the only symptom, a high cholesterol level warrants a thyroid evaluation.
- Heart failure. Some of the effects of low thyroid hormone levels — for example, reduced blood volume, weaker contractions of the heart muscle, and a slower heart rate — may contribute to heart failure. (Heart failure describes a condition in which the heart doesn’t pump blood effectively to the muscles and organs of the body.) Symptoms of heart failure include breathlessness, swelling in the ankles, weakness, and fatigue.
- Bowel movement changes. An older person with hypothyroidism might have constipation because of decreased movement of stool through the bowels. Less often, an older person will have frequent bouts of diarrhea, which is more typically a symptom of an overactive thyroid. Persistent or severe diarrhea in an older person always warrants a call to the doctor.
- Joint or muscle pain. Vague joint pain is a classic symptom of hypothyroidism. It sometimes is the only symptom of hypothyroidism in an older patient, although many experience an overall muscular aching, particularly in large muscle groups.
- Mental health concerns. As with younger people, depression is common among older people with an underactive thyroid. The difference is that in older people, it can be the only symptom. An older person could also develop other psychiatric symptoms, including delusions or hallucinations.
- Dementia. Debilitating memory loss — often, but not always, accompanied by depression or some kind of psychosis — can also occur as the only symptom of hypothyroidism. If you or a loved one is being evaluated for dementia, be sure that thyroid tests are part of the workup.
- Problems with balance. Abnormalities in the cerebellum at the back of the brain that occur with an underactive thyroid may lead to walking problems in older people.
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