Back in the late 30s, 40s and early 50s, while I was growing up and summer was arriving, my mom would always designate one of our few closets in which to sequester our wool clothes and blankets, complete with an abundant supply of moth balls, in order to prevent those hungry air borne critters from eating the precious woolen items full of holes. Moths were frequent visitors in those days because we had screens on windows and doors, each of which was bound to have some holes, and the windows were open nearly all the time from April until October. On rare occasions a woolen sweater would be inadvertently overlooked and when removed to be worn to school on that first chilly fall morning I would find a moth hole or two that my mom would have to darn; a seldom used procedure or word these days. We never knew it was happening because of the obvious fact that those moths made no noise. So it is with several insidiously creeping, health related conditions that cause an early demise in unsuspecting humans.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) has always been known by physicians as “the silent killer” because of its progressively damaging effect on the blood vessels of the brain and kidneys as well as those in the heart and other vital organs. Death can come suddenly through a stroke or myocardial infarction (heart attack) or gradually by means of chronic renal (kidney) failure or peripheral vascular disease.
Another, very common cause for an adverse outcome in regard to our longevity is undetected diabetes. The commonly recognized diabetic symptoms of frequency of urination and excessive thirst only develop when one’s blood sugar rises high enough to spill over into the urine (usually above a renal threshold of 200 mg/dl), but an abnormal blood sugar is a level that only exceeds 100 mg/dl; fasting. Thus a person can have untreated diabetes for years without ever experiencing any warnings. As a result insidious damage occurs to the eyes, kidneys, peripheral nervous system, heart and arteries long before the first clinical signs of diabetes become evident.
Hypothyroidism is also in the same category of the two silent killers discussed above. It is most commonly due to an autoimmune condition (chronic thyroiditis) whereby one begins to slowly destroy one’s own thyroid gland by manufacturing antibodies against its tissues. That condition goes undetected unless a physician has the presence of mind to think of it and order the proper blood tests: a TSH and T4. Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to depression, dementia, dyslipidemia (high cholesterol and triglycerides), heart disease, chronic arthritis and peripheral neuropathy; the symptoms of the latter of which may include pain, numbness and tingling in the area affected by the nerve damage. It may also cause muscle weakness or loss of muscle control. This condition, unlike the other two, is easily controlled by simply replacing one’s lack of thyroid hormone with an inexpensive and harmless pill taken once a day.