The thyroid gland sits in front of the trachea, below the larynx. It is responsible for controlling metabolism by producing hormones that are carried through the bloodstream, affecting everything from oxygen to heat consumption. When your thyroid produces too much or too little hormone, it can have a serious adverse effect on your body.
Your thyroid is a crucial organ, regulating the amount of energy your body consumes. Sometimes, it can produce either too much or too little thyroid hormone, creating an imbalance that affects the organs.
When the thyroid is overactive, it produces excess hormones that speed up metabolism. This condition, known as hyperthyroidism, causes your heartbeat to speed up, leading to anxiety and irritability. Symptoms include:
- Weak muscles
- Trembling hands
- Weight loss
- Vision problems
- Increased sensitivity to heat
It is frequently linked to Grave’s Disease, a disorder that causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, causing it to produce too much hormone.
With hypothyroidism, the opposite occurs. Not enough hormones are produced, causing the metabolism to slow down. This leads to:
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Increased sensitivity to cold.
Hashimoto’s Disease is a condition similar to Grave’s Disease, only it causes the body to produce too little hormone.
Thyroid nodules, small noncancerous lumps, sometimes form on the thyroid gland. As they grow, they can cause pain, swelling, hoarseness and swallowing or breathing difficulties.
Treating Thyroid Disorders
Treatment for thyroid disorders differs based on whether you are suffering from an overactive thyroid gland or an underactive gland. Hyperthyroidism is managed with radioactive iodide, anti-thyroid medication or surgery. People with hypothyroidism must take a synthetic thyroid hormone, usually for the rest of their lives.
Thyroid Gland Removal
When certain conditions interfere with normal thyroid production, surgical removal of the thyroid gland is performed. This is usually done when thyroid cancer has been detected, an otherwise benign thyroid nodule grows so large it causes problems or hyperthyroidism (a disorder in which excess thyroid hormone is produced) does not respond to treatment with medications or radioactive iodine, though this is rare.
Thyroid surgery is known as a thyroidectomy. Two types of procedures are performed: a total thyroidectomy to remove the entire gland or a subtotal thyroidectomy, which removes part of the gland.
In a total thyroidectomy, the entire gland and surrounding lymph nodes are removed. The patient is given drugs to suppress thyroid hormone production, in addition to radioactive iodine. A subtotal thyroidectomy involves removal of one complete gland and part of the other, which is usually reserved for treating hyperthyroidism caused by Grave’s disease.
The effectiveness of any surgical thyroid procedure depends on the type of cancer present and how much it has spread. Overall, the surgery is considered safe, but may lead to complications that include injury to the vocal cords and larynx (which could cause hoarseness, changes in the voice and problems speaking or swallowing), injury to the parathyroid glands (which could cause hypoparathyroidism, a separate condition in which too little parathyroid hormone is produced), difficulty breathing and the usual risks associated with most surgical procedures (bleeding and infection).