Much like motor vehicles have engines, our bodies have similar parts to help us function. The heart and brain are the big anatomy regulators, but did you know the thyroid is also a crucial driver of bodily operation? When your thyroid experiences problems, your whole body starts to feel out of sorts — and your quality of life suffers.
Knowing how your thyroid works and what signs indicate something is wrong will
help you get the care you need and enhance your livelihood. Deb Vogelsang, nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic Health System, answers some common questions about thyroid disease.
Q. What is a thyroid?
A. A thyroid is a gland at the base of the neck. This important part of your body produces hormones that regulate blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate and weight.
Q. What are potential thyroid problems?
A. There are four main thyroid afflictions: hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer and thyroid nodules.
Hypothyroidism. Thinning hair, weight gain, fatigue, muscle weakness, joint pain, depression and impaired memory.
Thyroid cancer. A lump on your neck, difficulty swallowing, swollen lymph nodes and changes in your voice.
Thyroid nodules. In many cases, nodules don’t produce symptoms. In other cases, nodules become large enough that you can see and/or feel them. Some nodules are cancerous, although most are benign.
Contact your health care team if you experience these symptoms or have other concerns about potential thyroid health.
Treatment options for these conditions include:
Hyperthyroidism. Multiple treatments are available for hyperthyroidism. Treatments include radioactive iodine, anti-thyroid medications, beta blockers or surgery. It’s important to discuss options with your health care provider to determine what’s best for you.
Hypothyroidism. The most common treatment for hypothyroidism is an oral medication called synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine. After taking this medication, people see improvements with fatigue and even weight management. Finding the right dosage is key, as all patients require different care plans.
Thyroid cancer. Treatment for thyroid cancer is dependent on the type, size and stage of the tumor. Options include surgery — which may consist of partial or complete removal of the thyroid — radioactive iodine, external radiation therapy, chemotherapy or targeted drug therapy.
Thyroid nodules. There are a few options for treating noncancerous nodules. Watch and wait, conduct surgery for large benign nodules or use thyroid suppression therapy.
The thyroid is so important to your well-being. It’s a gland that regulates vital functions of your body and influences not only your health, but the quality of your life. So if there’s an issue, the faster it’s addressed, the better you’ll feel.