Our thyroid gland may be small, but when it doesn’t function as it should, it can cause big problems. This butterfly shaped gland situated in the front of the neck just below the Adam’s apple releases hormones that help regulate our digestive and cardiovascular systems, muscle function, and controls our metabolism. If left untreated, thyroid disorders can affect body temperature, ovulation, fertility, vision, muscular strength, moods, energy levels, and more.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), an estimated 20 million Americans have thyroid disease and up to 60% of those patients are unaware of their condition.
“Although men experience thyroid disease, women are five to eight times more likely to develop problems, which often occur during puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, and perimenopause due to hormonal shifts but may occur at any time throughout the lifespan,” says Danielle Gourley, CRNP, UPMC Pinnacle Endocrinology.
Thyroid disease is classified into two broad categories: hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland).
Symptoms vary according to the type of disease, however if an individual is experiencing rapid or slow heart rates, tremors, unexplained weight changes (weight gain is associated with Hypothyroidism and weight loss with Hyperthyroidism), profound fatigue, change in mental status, muscle weakness, cold or heat intolerance, or change in bowel habits, they should consult with their primary care provider for an evaluation and possible referral to an endocrinologist.
“Typically, we start with blood work to measure TSH levels (hormones), FT4 (thyroid function), and thyroid antibodies to confirm or rule out autoimmune thyroid disease. If there is reason to suspect thyroid nodules, goiter, or thyroid cancer, a thyroid ultrasound is conducted,” says Gourley.
For most patients, thyroid conditions are easily treated with medicine and active surveillance. Some early symptoms of thyroid cancer include changes in your voice, hoarseness, cough, difficulty swallowing, or fullness in the neck. Any of these symptoms would prompt your health care provider to consider a thyroid ultrasound to assess the anatomy of the thyroid gland and evaluate for thyroid nodules.
These nodules may need a biopsy to rule out thyroid cancer if they are considered suspicious. Cancer of the thyroid is less common and when caught early, it is treatable and survival rates are high. Cancers of the thyroid require surgery and specialized treatment plans that can include hormone therapy, radioactive iodine, radiation, and in some cases chemotherapy and medication.
The newest treatment therapy for thyroid nodules is radiofrequency ablation (RFA). This minimally invasive procedure inserts a small electrode into a thyroid nodule under ultrasound guidance. It sometimes is used as an alternative to thyroid surgery for benign thyroid nodules.
“UPMC is equipped to treat all levels of thyroid disease. Providers are empathetic and available to address any concerns throughout a person’s thyroid treatment” says Gourley.
For more information, visit UPMC.com/CentralPaEndocrinology.