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The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped organ located in the front of the lower part of your neck. The purpose of the thyroid gland is to make thyroid hormone, which travels throughout the blood stream to the rest of the body. Thyroid hormone controls the activity of all the other organs in your body, and thus either too much, or too little thyroid hormone can cause problems. Too much thyroid hormone is called hyperthyroidism and too little, hypothyroidism.
When disorders of the thyroid gland are discovered, they generally involve one of the following concerns.
Too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism)
Too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism)
Nodules on the thyroid.
The overproduction of thyroid hormone may lead to one or more of the following symptoms. Not everyone will get these symptoms and some may not have any. The most common symptoms are nervousness, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, palpitations (racing heart), weight loss (sometimes weight gain), increased appetite, muscle weakness, feeling warm and sweaty, increased frequency of bowel movements and perhaps diarrhea. Some people also develop problems with their eyes, with the typical symptoms being bulging eyes, dry, red or tearing eyes, and double vision. Although there are many causes of an overactive thyroid gland, typically, treatment typically involves medication or radioactive iodine. Surgery is not generally necessary.
The underproduction of thyroid hormone may lead to one or more of the following symptoms, fatigue, weight gain, puffiness around your eyes, hands or feet, or constipation. Just as in hyperthyroidism, some people may have no symptoms at all. The treatment of hypothyroidism involves taking a medication called levothyroxine, which is identical to the natural hormone made by your thyroid gland. Once treatment has been initiated and thyroid hormone levels have returned to normal, all symptoms will resolve. Treatment is lifelong.
Thyroid nodules are growths that occur within the thyroid gland, and can be either non-cancerous or cancerous. Most nodules, about 85%, are not cancerous. The question is how to differentiate between the two. One criteria used is size. If the nodule is less than 1cm (a little less than 1/2 inch), the nodule can be monitored with ultrasounds. If it is greater than 1cm, a biopsy can be performed. This is an outpatient procedure that can usually be done in the office.