The thyroid is a small gland with a big job.
It sits in your throat, just above your collarbone, and although everyone has one, few people really understand how it functions. The thyroid produces a hormone that regulates everything from your appetite to weight control to energy levels in your body. Because it has the important function of regulating many of the body’s functions, it is important to understand what it is supposed to be doing, so that you can also understand when it isn’t doing its job and know what your options are.
Below are the five main things that I think you need to understand about your thyroid.
It produces hormones.
This is important to know, because hormones play such an important role in how the body functions. Understanding that the thyroid produces hormones that control and regulate different conditions in the body, can potentially help you identify when the thyroid isn’t working properly.
It can malfunction at an earlier age than many chronic diseases.
A lot of people have a low-functioning thyroid. When the thyroid hormones are low, you can gain weight, lose hair, have less energy and you can even be more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures.
We don’t really know what causes it to happen other than to say it usually is from an autoimmune disease where your body creates antibodies that attack the thyroid and cause it to malfunction. They can cause it to under-produce the thyroid hormone, or over produce it. Though more common in people over 60, this can occur earlier in life than many other chronic diseases and is also more common in women than in men. Many times, we see this in people who are in their 30s and 40s, especially if they have another autoimmune disease.
A simple blood test can tell you if yours is working properly or not.
Although often times thyroid issues can be mistaken for menopausal symptoms in women, or a number of other issues with similar symptoms, a simple blood test can tell you if your thyroid is the root of your problem.
If you suspect you might have an issue with your thyroid, start by calling your primary care physician and tell them about your symptoms. They can discuss with you whether or not you might need to take the blood test.
It can get cancer.
There is cancer of the thyroid, although it is rare relative to many other cancers. It is, however, one of the more common cancers for those in their 30s and 40s to get, and, like with non-cancerous thyroid disease, is more common in women.
These issues can be fixed.
Most of the time, surgery isn’t needed on the thyroid for non-cancerous issues. There are medications that can help control overproduction of the thyroid and you can take synthetic thyroid hormones that can help boost your levels. If a thyroid disease is untreated for too long it can grow in size and cause symptoms such as coughing and difficulty swallowing and breathing. Removing the thyroid in these cases can instantly relieve these symptoms.
With cancer, often times removing the thyroid surgically is all that is needed. Depending on the size of the cancer, some radiation may be needed, but if it is caught early and you are young, removal of the thyroid alone is standard procedure. You can live without your thyroid, thanks to the medications available to help regulate the hormones, and many people do.
The surgery is elective and is typically done through a small incision in the neck. Most of the time, patients spend one night in the hospital post-surgery, so that we can monitor hormone levels and monitor for any complications. The surgery lasts two to three hours. It is a very common procedure that is covered by insurance.
Timothy Johnson, M.D., M.S., is board-certified in general surgery and surgical critical care. He is a graduate of Albany Medical College in Albany, N.Y., and did his residency at New Hanover Regional Medical Center/South East Area Health Education Center, Wilmington, N.C. He is a surgeon with Williamson Medical Group and his office can be reached by calling 615-794-8900Share this Article