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What is My Thyroid, What Does It Do, and Why is It So Important?

Francis Lee, MD, Medical Director of the Thyroid Center at GBMC, discusses the important tiny gland in the neck for national Thyroid Awareness Month.

 

Just about everyone has at least heard of the thyroid, and its regulation of metabolism.  It has something to do with your weight, and energy level.  Are you overweight or underweight? Maybe it’s your thyroid. Are you hot or cold? Maybe it’s your thyroid.  Are you anxious or depressed? Maybe it’s your thyroid. 

So how do you really know if you have a thyroid problem? If it were as simple as Jeff Foxworthy sees the world (“You might have a thyroid problem if…”), you might not be reading this blog, and endocrinologists like me might be out of business.  Thyroid disease is more common than diabetes or heart disease and is a fact of life for as many as 30 million Americans – and it is a condition that is undiagnosed in many people.

January is national Thyroid Awareness Month, a time when we hope to make the public aware of the need to take good care of this important tiny gland in the neck. The most common symptoms of a thyroid condition include (but are not limited to) weight changes, fatigue, depression, anxiety, high cholesterol, bowel problems, menstrual irregularities, fertility problems and swelling of the neck.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your throat, right above your collarbone. Although, small and often ignored while it's functioning correctly, this particular gland is part of the endocrine system and is responsible for making sure your body uses energy at the proper rate by secreting a hormone that helps regulate your metabolism. If there is a problem with your thyroid, your metabolism may burn energy rapidly or not quickly enough, causing a problem. Fatigue, weight gain, sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, rapid heart rate could be a result of an over or under-active thyroid.

If a thyroid problem is in question, your doctor will take a detailed history and physical examination, and may order some blood tests for thyroid disease.  Usually, blood work will be able to tell if the thyroid gland is working correctly.  If blood tests confirm that the thyroid function is under active (hypothyroid) or over active (hyperthyroid), treatment might be started with medication in the case of hypothyroidism, or medications, radioactive iodine, or surgery in the case of hyperthyroidism. Often, the blood work is normal, treatment for thyroid is not needed, and other causes for your symptoms might need to be investigated.

If your doctor finds thyroid enlargement or an abnormality on examination, a thyroid ultrasound may be ordered.  If a thyroid nodule is detected, your may be referred to an endocrinologist for a fine needle aspiration biopsy. This a very good test to investigate for the possibility of thyroid malignancy or cancer.  Additional imaging studies or nuclear scans may be ordered to complete a thyroid evaluation.  In general, an endocrinologist will be in charge of handling the medical management of your thyroid condition. 

Fortunately the vast majority of thyroid diseases are curable or treatable.  If you suspect having a thyroid problem, please discuss your symptoms with your doctor. If you have a known thyroid condition, and need specialized treatment, you may contact the GBMC Thyroid Center at 443-Thyroid (443-849-7643).

The Thyroid Center at GBMC diagnoses and treats a full range of thyroid disorders from hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism to benign nodules and thyroid cancer.  The Center serves as a comprehensive resource for patients with thyroid disorders. Patients meet first with an endocrinologist, who will serve as the coordinator for all facets of care related to their thyroid condition. When necessary, patients have ready access to expert thyroid surgeons as well as oncologists from GBMC’s Sandra & Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute. The multidisciplinary team also works closely with GBMC’s Department of Pathology and Department of Radiology to ensure comprehensive, integrated and coordinated care.

You can visit www.gbmc.org/thyroid for more information or see our Frequently Asked Questions here http://www.gbmc.org/body.cfm?id=2227  Additionally, a series of Thyroid Center videos is available on GBMC's YouTube channel.

-          Francis Lee, M.D. is Medical Director of the Thyroid Center at GBMC

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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