KNOW THE FACTS
WHAT DOES THE THYROID GLAND DO?
The thyroid is an endocrine gland located at the base of the neck that is small, but has a variety of functions. Generally speaking, the thyroid gland helps the body regulate its metabolism (how your body uses energy) by releasing thyroid hormones. If the thyroid gland is underactive or overactive, various functions in the body can become abnormal.
For example, if you are hypothyroid (underactive), you might have unexplained weight gain, weak or slow heartbeat, fatigue, slow reflexes, memory problems, depression, constipation, thick/puffy/dry skin, or difficulty with cold temperatures. In contrast, if you are hyperthyroid, you may experience symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, and difficulty with warm temperatures.
Because the range of symptoms of thyroid disorders is varied and differs from person to person, diagnosing thyroid disorders can sometimes be challenging.
WHAT ARE COMMON DISORDERS OF THE THYROID?
Common disorders of the thyroid include the following:
Hormone imbalance: The thyroid gland may produce too little (hypothyroidism) or too much (hyperthyroidism) thyroid hormone. This imbalance may be treated with oral medications.
Nodules or lumps in the thyroid: Small growths in the thyroid gland may occur and are common. They are often benign and do not cause any other issues.
Goiter: Generalized swelling or bulging in the thyroid gland is referred to as a goiter. A goiter may occur in someone with a hormone imbalance (overactive or underactive), but can also occur in someone with no hormone imbalance or other symptoms.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: This autoimmune condition (the body mistakenly attacks cells in the thyroid gland) causes inflammation in the thyroid gland and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It may also cause a goiter.
Graves’ disease: This autoimmune condition is a common cause of hyperthyroidism. It also may cause inflammation and swelling of the tissue around the eyes and, rarely, skin problems.
Thyroid cancer: Cancerous thyroid nodules are typically very treatable and cureable.
If you have symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, or feel a lump or swelling in your thyroid, it is best to see a primary care provider who will perform a basic examination and order additional testing such as thyroid blood tests and imaging tests such as a thyroid ultrasound.
HOW ARE THYROID DISORDERS TREATED?
If your thyroid level is low then the doctor will prescribe thyroid supplementation to increase your thyroid level. If your thyroid level is high, then you will initially be started on medications to bring your thyroid level down and then be referred to an endocrinologist to discuss furhter treatment options for long-term solutions for this conditions.
If you have nodules/lumps or a goiter, then you will need to have labs done as well as imaging studies beginning with a thyroid ultrasound. Depending on the lab and imaging tests you may or may not need further evaluation such as a biopsy.