Although thyroid disease tends to be most common in young women, the number of older patients diagnosed with the problem is escalating, Dr. Seybt says, noting that the oldest patient in this study group was 84. With a geriatric population that has increased by 90 percent in the last 30 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the numbers are likely to continue upward.
"A lot of our older patients have other problems, such as heart failure, hypertension and restrictive lung disease, so we are very aggressive about getting medical clearance and optimizing control of their other problems," Dr. Seybt says.
She notes that head and neck surgeries generally have less complications and quicker recoveries than procedures in other parts of the body, such as the abdomen or chest. Low calcium levels are a common complication of thyroid surgery because the adjacent parathyroid glands are typically a little stunned by removal of the thyroid gland, she says. To help avoid problems, patients are routinely placed on a three-week tapering dose of calcium but sometimes still have transient problems, most commonly numbness or tingling around the lips and cramping of the hands and feet. Because of the close proximity to the vocal cords, patients also can have transient or permanent hoarseness.
While its exact cause is unknown, thyroid disease tends to run in families and radiation exposure is believed to be a risk factor for thyroid cancer. The increased availability of quality, non-invasive screening such as ultrasound likely means more cases are being identified at every age, Dr. Seybt says.
Laptop-sized ultrasounds are showing up in many physician offices and thyroid nodules also show up when patients have more sophisticated studies of the head and neck, such as an MRI scan, for other reasons. Patients or their doctors often just feel nodules in the neck although they can be oddly asymptomatic until they grow larg
|Contact: Toni Baker|
Medical College of Georgia