Thyroid disease   [return to the list of articles]

Many Americans are affected by thyroid abnormalities. These can range from underactive thyroid glands to nodues and tumors of the gland.

The thyroid gland is a "butterfly" shaped organ wrapped around the windpipe in the lower neck. It's primary function is to produce chemicals that regulate the body's metabolism.

Many symptoms can be associated with thyroid abnormalities. When the thyroid is overactive(hyperthyroidism) symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, weight loss, heat intolerance, or anxiety, can be present. When the thyroid is underactive (hypothyroidism) symptoms of fatigue, depression, weight gain, and cold intolerance can occur.

Currently, overactive thyroids are managed by medications to counteract the extra chemicals that are produced by the thyroid.

Occasionally, a permanent treatment is indicated. This is done by having the patient drink a radioactive iodine "cocktail" which destroys part of the gland thus returning the body to a normal metabolism.

Underactive thyroids are treated with medication such as synthyroid to replace the lacking chemicals in the body.

Another common problem with the thyroid gland is nodules or tumors. In the past, due to poor intake of iodine, large goiters were more common. Now, with the use of iodized salt and the increased consumption of fish (especially shellfish) these types of goiters are less common but still do exist. Most nodules or lumps in the thyroid are benign nodular goiters and can be easily treated or suppressed with synthroid. Occasionally, goiters can become very enlarged and cause difficulty in swallowing or breathing. If this occurs, surgical removal of the thyroid gland is indicated.

Most nodules in the thyroid are benign goiters. However, thyroid cancer can occur. Whenever a lump is found in the gland, it is important to make sure that it is not a cancerous growth. The way to evaluate a nodule is for a surgeon to perform a fine needle aspirate or a core needle biopsy of the lump. This is done in the surgeon's office with local anesthesia. Depending on the results of these procedures, medical management may be sufficient or surgical intervention may be necessary.

If one of these nodules is cancerous, surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid gland is performed and/or the drinking of the iodine "cocktail" easily curing most cancers.

For further information about thyroid disease or thyroid nodules contact our office at 459-5607.
-- Anthony M. Carrato, M.D.