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Thyroid problems can increase with aging

Doctor examines woman with enlarged thyroid gland.

By Holly Carlson MS, RN, CCRN

According to the American Thyroid Association more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will experience thyroid illness in their lifetime. Thyroid problems can increase with aging.  Most people are unaware that they have thyroid dysfunction or illness. Thyroid conditions are most prevalent in the female population and if left untreated can cause other serious health issues.

Thyroid illness can occur as a result of the thyroid gland under or over producing hormones that regulate the bodies metabolism.

How are hormones impacted by thyroid problems?

Hypothyroidism Insufficient production of thyroid hormones
Hyperthyroidism Overproduction of thyroid hormones
Graves’ Disease Overproduction of thyroid hormones that results from an autoimmune disorder.
Thyroiditis Inflammation of the thyroid gland caused by neck surgery, virus’, bacteria, medications, or radiation treatment.
     De Quervain’s Thyroid gland becomes swollen and tender. High levels of thyroid hormones released into the body.
     Hashimotos Autoimmune. Inability to convert iodine to thyroid hormone. Thyroid gland becomes enlarged from trying to make thyroid hormone. Person experiences insufficient levels of thyroid hormone.
     Silent Fluctuation of thyroid hormones that occurs less than 3 months and resolves on its own. Usually occurs after pregnancy.
Thyroid Cancer
     Anaplastic Least common cancer, most aggressive. Often occurs with another thyroid cancer.
     Follicular Identified by an abnormal lump in the neck. Hormone secretion is not affected.
     Hurthle Cell Identified by an abnormal lump in the neck. Hormone secretion is not affected.
     Medullary Symptoms rarely occur. A small lump may be present, or diarrhea may occur with advanced disease. Hormone secretion is increases.
     Papillary Identified by an abnormal lump in the neck. Hormone secretion is not affected.
Goiter Enlargement of the thyroid gland because of the gland either produces too much or too little thyroid hormone. Can result from autoimmune disorders or lack of iodine in diet.


Thyroid cancer impacts hormone secretion. The unfortunate part of thyroid cancer is that with most of them they require surgery and radiation therapy which affects the function of the remain gland or the gland is totally removed. In most cases, the person becomes hypothyroid from the treatment for the cancer. Treatment for hypothyroid is the same whether it was caused by treating a cancer or because the organ itself was not functioning properly.

With thyroid illness other than cancer, the gland either over produces or under produces thyroid hormone.

What are signs of thyroid problems?

For most illnesses there are distinct symptoms that can be directly associated with the issue. For example, a heart attack is the symptom of a clogged artery on the heart. However, with thyroid disease it isn’t that clear. The tricky part with thyroid illness is overlapping symptoms.

Overlapping symptoms:

There are symptoms that are very distinct to hyper or hypothyroidism but those are usually picked up on quickly by healthcare providers. The list of overlapping symptoms can be difficult to even attribute to a health problem. Judging the impact of one of these symptoms by itself or a couple together could certainly be attributed to just living life. There are times when a person can be being treated for a thyroid illness and their bodies change enough that they need adjustment because their medication needs can change.

In community-based care where you take care of people who may not be able to communicate their symptoms as easily it is important to validate and investigate subtle changes in the people you care for. While the overlapping symptoms may seem like a part of life, they in fact could be your first signs of a change in condition.

Thyroid illness is often discounted because of the chronicity of it. The chronic nature of thyroid dysfunction actually has great effect on the quality of life for the person who has it. Ensuring medications are taken on an empty stomach, keeping regular visits and having blood test completed, and being aware of symptoms that seem like they are just a part of life are critical to supporting a happy healthy life.


American Thyroid Association. General Information.,are%20unaware%20of%20their%20condition. Accessed January 27, 2021.

Holly Carlson registered nurseHolly Carlson MS, RN, CCRN is a freelance writer and owner of HDC Consulting.  Holly is a registered nurse with 25 years of healthcare experience in both acute and post-acute healthcare environments. Her experience includes direct care, organizational leadership, facility management, and organization culture development.

Phone: (541)419-4036