What is the thyroid gland?
According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. But what is a thyroid? Your thyroid is a small, butterfly shaped gland that is located at the front of your neck. It provides the hormones that help control your metabolism, growth, energy level and heart rate.
Diseases of the thyroid gland are very common. Problems are most often either functional or structural.
Functional Thyroid Disorders:
Structural Thyroid Disorders:
- Hypothyroidism - Underactive thyroid producing too little thyroid hormones that cause weight gain, dry skin and depression.
- Hyperthyroidism - Overactive thyroid gland producing too much thyroid hormone which can lead to your body using up more energy than it should.
- Evaluation - Functional thyroid disorders are usually discovered through blood tests. If a problem is detected by your primary health care provider, you may be referred to an endocrinologist who will decide the best course of treatment.
- Thyroid nodule - A collection of cells within the thyroid that grows to produce a lump or nodule. Nodules can sometimes be felt and may be detected on radiologic tests. They are non-cancerous 90-95 percent of the time. Nodules may be suspicious for cancer when they rapidly increase in size, change your voice quality or affect swallowing and/or breathing.
- Evaluation - Structural thyroid disorders are usually detected through a physical exam or ultrasound imaging. If your primary health care provider finds a problem you may be referred to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon. The ENT provider will evaluate the thyroid gland with an ultrasound and may perform a biopsy to decide if surgery is needed.
Managing your thyroid
- Think thyroid - since the thyroid gland can cause a variety of symptoms, if you feel your heart racing, feel colder, can't lose or gain weight, feel depressed, have dryer skin, have memory problems or anxiety, ask your doctor if it could be your thyroid.
- Check your neck - although hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are different conditions, both can make the thyroid larger than normal. An enlarged thyroid is a lump that can be felt under your skin at the front of the neck.
- Get a blood test and a thorough thyroid exam - if you are concerned that you might have a thyroid problem, you should visit your doctor. If a person does have a thyroid disease, proper diagnosis and treatment can usually prevent or correct any problems.
Knowing your body is the first step in taking care of it. If you are noticing any symptoms of a thyroid condition, make sure to contact your health care provider.