The thyroid is a small gland in the lower part of your neck. The function of a gland is to secrete hormones. The main hormones released by the thyroid are triodothyronine, abbreviated as T3, and thyroxine, abbreviated as T4. These thyroid hormones deliver energy to your body.

Common diseases of the thyroid include:

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a condition that exists when your thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormones. Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:

  • Slowdown in metabolism
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Depression

Your doctor will ask for a complete medical history and will perform a thorough physical examination. Different diagnostic studies may be ordered, including lab tests and detailed physical examinations. Treatment for hypothyroidism usually includes taking a synthetic version of thyroid hormones.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is a condition that exists when your thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism may include

  • Nervousness and irritability
  • Increased perspiration
  • Thinning of your skin and/or hair
  • Weight loss, even though appetite is unchanged

Your doctor will ask for a complete medical history and will perform a thorough physical examination. Different diagnostic studies may be ordered, including lab tests and detailed physical examinations. Treatment for hyperthyroidism usually includes taking medicine that will stop the excess production of thyroid hormones.

Multinodular goiter

Nodules within the thyroid gland are very common. Most frequently, these nodules are detected when you or your doctor feels the neck. Your doctor will ask for a complete medical history and will perform a thorough physical examination. Different diagnostic studies may be ordered, including lab tests and detailed physical examinations. When the nodules are larger than 1 cm, your doctor will usually ask for a biopsy called a fine needle aspiration. If the biopsy is suspicious for tumor or cancer, your doctor may recommend surgical removal of the gland. In addition, if the nodules become very large, they can cause problems called compressive symptoms. Compressive symptoms include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pressure in the neck, especially when lying down flat
  • Difficulty breathing, especially when lying down flat

When nodule become very large, or if compressive symptoms are present, your doctor may recommend surgical removal of the thyroid.

Benign thyroid tumors

Benign, non-cancerous tumors can form in the thyroid. These usually present as a nodule within the thyroid. Your doctor will ask for a complete medical history and will perform a thorough physical examination. Different diagnostic studies may be ordered, including lab tests and detailed physical examinations. Your doctor will usually ask for a biopsy called a fine needle aspiration. If the biopsy is suspicious for tumor or cancer, your doctor may recommend surgical removal of the gland.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is a malignancy found within the thyroid gland. Often the cancer is not found until the tumor has grown to be detectable by touch. Symptoms may include:

  • A lump, or nodule, in the front of the neck near the Adam's apple
  • Hoarseness
  • Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Pain in the throat or neck

Your doctor will ask for a complete medical history and will perform a thorough physical examination. Different diagnostic studies may be ordered, including imaging studies, lab tests and detailed physical examinations. These may include:

  • Blood tests . Your doctor may test for abnormal levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood. TSH controls how fast thyroid cells grow.
  • Ultrasonography. Ultrasound uses sound waves that bounce off the body. The computer then interprets those images to create a picture. From the picture, your doctor can see if nodules are present, how big they are, and whether they are solid or filled with fluid.
  • Radionuclide scanning. Your doctor may order a nuclear medicine scan that uses a very small amount of radioactive material to make thyroid nodules show up on a picture.
  • Biopsy. The removal of tissue to look for abnormal cells is called a biopsy. A biopsy is the only sure way to know whether a nodule is cancerous.

The doctor may remove tissue through a needle or during surgery:

  • Fine-needle aspiration. For most patients, the doctor removes a sample of tissue from a thyroid nodule with a thin needle. A pathologist looks at the cells under a microscope to check for cancer. Sometimes, the doctor uses ultrasound to guide the needle through the nodule.
  • Surgical biopsy. If a diagnosis cannot be made from the fine-needle aspiration, the doctor may operate to remove the nodule with part or all of the thyroid gland. A pathologist then checks the tissue for cancer cells.

Thyroid cancer is treated with surgery to remove the thyroid glands. Lymph nodes next to the thyroid may need to be removed as well. You may require treatment with radioactive iodine after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

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