Overactive thyroid in the elderly poses special diagnostic challenges. That’s why you need an experienced endocrinologist to figure out if an older person is suffering from hyperthyroidism or not.
Symptoms Of Overactive Thyroid in the Elderly
In older adults, symptoms of hyperthyroidism are few and less dramatic than what we see in young individuals. Instead of a hyperkinetic state, there is apathy. That’s why we also call it “apathetic hyperthyroidism,” first described by Dr. Lahey in 1931.
The usual symptoms of hyperthyroidism in the elderly are depression, weakness, and decreased appetite, which is in sharp contrast to symptoms of hyperthyroidism in young adults, which are high energy, agitation, and increased appetite.
Chronic diarrhea and atrial fibrillation are other symptoms of hyperthyroidism in older adults. Usually, eye symptoms of Graves’ disease are not present.
Why Diagnosis of Hyperthyroidism is Missed in Older Patients
Often, a family physician does not think beyond the usual mindset of a symptom-related approach. Typically, physicians think of cancer, heart disease and endogenous depression, especially if you live in the USA. Often, a patient sees a lot of specialists such as a psychiatrist, oncologist, cardiologist and gastroenterologist. Typically, the elderly person goes through a number of invasive and expensive tests, especially if you have good insurance. Unfortunately, the patient does not think to see an endocrinologist and consequently ends up wasting a lot of precious time and money. Unfortunately, it is patient who suffers unnecessarily. Sad but true!
You cannot entirely blame the family physician or other specialists who simply practice what they were trained to do. In addition, they practice defensive medicine to protect themselves against medical lawsuits in the USA.
Treatment Of Overactive Thyroid in Older Adults
First, one has to figure out the underlying cause of hyperthyroidism. Obviously, treatment will depend on the underlying cause.