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Friday, January 6, 2012

January is Thyroid Awareness Month

Your thyroid is a gland that is located in your neck.  It produces hormones that help your body function properly.  There are a number of different thyroid diseases, including hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and Graves’ disease.

Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.  This causes some of the body’s functions to slow down.  Symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, dry skin, and feeling colder.

Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland is overactive and produces too much thyroid hormone and this causes a speed up in body functions.  Some of the symptoms include nervousness, irritability, excessive perspiration, increased heart rate and anxiety.

Graves' disease is caused by a generalized overactivity of the entire thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism). It is named for Robert Graves, an Irish physician, who described this form of hyperthyroidism about 150 years ago.  Besides the other symptoms of hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease also can cause eye problems.

Check out the links at the end of this article for more information on these thyroid diseases, including treatment information.


Surgery is used as a treatment for many thyroid diseases, including an enlarged thyroid, nodules, overactive thyroid, and cancer.

Depending on what condition you have, there are a number of surgical options: biopsy or lumpectomy, removing only a small part of the thyroid; lobectomy, removing half the thyroid; subtotal thyroidectomy, removing almost all the thyroid, except for a small part on each side of the neck; near-total thyroidectomy, only leaving a small part of the thyroid on one side of the neck; and total thyroidectomy, removing the whole thyroid gland.

You should ask your surgeon questions so you understand your options.  You should ask about the risks involved with the operation, as well as how much of the thyroid your surgeon will be removing.  Once you decide on the surgery, your surgeon will give you instructions you need to follow before your surgery.  You will also meet with an anesthesiologist before the surgery.  If you’ve had an allergic reaction to anesthesia in the past, make sure you tell the anesthesiologist.  This should be in your medical record.  Depending on what type of surgery you have, the surgery will usually last between 2-2 ½ hours.  Most people will be able to go home the day after the surgery and you will receive instructions on what to do to take care of yourself.

Thyroid Cancer:
Anyone can get thyroid cancer but there are certain factors that may increase your risk.  Women have a higher rate of thyroid cancer than men.  You are at a higher risk if you are between 25 and 64.  Having a family member with thyroid disease also increases your risk.  Also, if you are of Asian descent, you are at an increased risk.

You should see your health care provider if you have a lump or swelling in your neck.  They may order a variety of tests to diagnose the problem, including which type of cancer you may have.   If surgery is recommended, depending on what type of cancer you have and how far it has spread, you will have one of the surgeries described above.

For more information, check out these links:

http://www.thyroid.org/patients/patient_brochures/surgery.html Thyroid Surgery (American Thyroid Association)

Thyroid Cancer (PDQ): Treatment (National Cancer Institute)

General Thyroid Information:

Thyroid Function Tests (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

Thyroid Hormone Treatment (American Thyroid Association)

Thyroid Medications (Food and Drug Administration)

Graves' Disease (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

Hyperthyroidism (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

Hypothyroidism (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

Thyroiditis (American Thyroid Association)

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