Thyroid Overview, Conditions, Diagnoses & Treatments

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of the front of the neck. It is composed of two lobes and a central bridge connecting them. The thyroid is critical to the normal function of the metabolism in our bodies and therefore it affects virtually every daily function we perform.

The thyroid secretes two hormones, known as T3 and T4, which, when produced in appropriate quantities, properly regulate heartbeat, body heat and calorie burning. Too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism) can cause significant reactions in the body as the metabolism is thrown off balance.

Causes of thyroid hormonal imbalances can range from mild, easily treatable disorders to rarer forms of cancer that require surgery.

Diagnosis of thyroid problems

Most patients experiencing moderate to severe hormone-related thyroid disorders will be well aware that something is wrong as their quality-of-life is usually compromised. Further, thyroid problems may manifest as small nodules on the thyroid or significant enlargement, called a goiter, which may be evident upon self-evaluation or during a physical. Since there are a significant number of possible conditions associated with a malfunctioning thyroid gland, the most appropriate diagnostic tool will be selected by your medical team. These may include:

  • Blood tests to detect TSH levels
  • Radioactive iodine uptake testing
  • Ultrasound to map the thyroid and examine nodules and goiters
  • Fine needle biopsy to evaluate nodular composition
  • Thyroid scan, again using radioactive iodine

Thyroid disorders can occur as a result of heredity. If close family members have had thyroid disorders, there is a greater chance that the patient may develop a similar disorder. Providing your physician with a full medical history, including information regarding family medical history, is important.

Thyroid Cancer

While most tumors in the thyroid turn out to be benign, some are malignant. Thyroid cancer is highly treatable as it is usually found at an early stage. Learn more about the different forms of thyroid cancer.

Treatment for Thyroid Problems

Treatments for thyroid problems range as widely as the diagnosis and can include: