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January is Thyroid Awareness Month: Learn the importance of your thyroid gland

Illustration of a thyroid gland
Illustration of a thyroid gland

Many people have never heard of this small but important butterfly-shaped gland located in the center of the neck- until it doesn’t work the way it should. Thyroid disease affects between 30 and 59 million people in the United States alone (!

What does the thyroid gland do?

Similar to other glands, the thyroid secretes hormones. There are two main hormones released by the thyroid – triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), which deliver energy to cells. These hormones are implicated in some of the body’s vital functions, including controlling metabolism, body temperature, and growth and development. During infancy and childhood, sufficient thyroid hormone is vital for brain development (WebMD).

This condition is often misdiagnosed as many of its symptoms are similar to other medical conditions such as depression. Thyroid disease affects women approximately 7 times more than men and can cause a myriad of health problems if not treated including weight gain/loss, infertility and miscarriages, fatigue and hair loss.

The most common thyroid conditions are described below: (WebMD)

  • Hyperthyroidism: Excessive thyroid hormone production. Hyperthyroidism is most often caused by Grave's disease or an overactive thyroid nodule. Symptoms can mimic anxiety.
  • Hypothyroidism: Low production of thyroid hormone. Thyroid damage caused by autoimmune disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Symptoms can often look like a depressive disorder and are often misdiagnosed.
  • Goiter: A general term for thyroid swelling. Goiters can be harmless, or can represent iodine deficiency or a condition associated with thyroid inflammation called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
  • Thyroid nodule: A small abnormal mass or lump in the thyroid gland. Thyroid nodules are extremely common. Few are cancerous. They may secrete excess hormones, causing hyperthyroidism, or cause no problems.
  • Thyroiditis: Inflammation of the thyroid, usually from a viral infection or autoimmune condition. Thyroiditis can be painful, or have no symptoms at all.
  • Graves disease: An autoimmune condition in which the thyroid is overstimulated, causing hyperthyroidism.
  • Thyroid cancer: An uncommon form of cancer, thyroid cancer is slow to spread and usually curable. Surgery, radiation, and hormone treatments may be used to treat thyroid cancer.
  • Thyroid storm: A rare form of hyperthyroidism in which extremely elevated thyroid hormone levels cause serious illness.

Thyroid Tests:

  • Thyroid scan: A small amount of radioactive iodine is given by mouth to get images of the thyroid gland. Radioactive iodine is concentrated within the thyroid gland.
  • Thyroid biopsy: A small amount of thyroid tissue is removed, usually to look for thyroid cancer. Thyroid biopsy is typically done with a needle.
  • Blood tests: Blood work can detect thyroid hormones including thyroid stimulation hormone (TSH), T3 and T4.
  • Anti-TPO antibodies: In autoimmune thyroid disease, proteins mistakenly attack the thyroid peroxidase enzyme, which is used by the thyroid to make thyroid hormones.
  • Thyroid ultrasound: A probe is placed on the skin of the neck, and reflected sound waves can detect abnormal areas of thyroid tissue.
  • Thyroglobulins: A substance secreted by the thyroid that can be used as a marker of thyroid cancer. It is often measured during follow-up in patients with thyroid cancer. High levels indicate recurrence of the cancer (WebMD).

Keep in mind that thyroid levels are not often checked in regular blood work so make sure to ask your doctor to include it if you are concerned.

For more information:

Thyroid Nodule Centers- Buffalo, NY

Thyroid Cancer Treatment-Buffalo, NY


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