Thyroid Awareness: The Nuts and Bolts About Your Thyroid By Anita Ramsetty, MD

  • Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Anita Ramsetty, MD, FACE, Medical Director of Roper St. Francis Diabetes Services

Between the news, the Internet, health magazines and health features in papers as well as our day-to-day contact with family and friends, there is a good chance that the majority of South Carolinians have at least heard of thyroid gland issues.  Thyroid gland issues vary from person to person and knowing about how the thyroid gland affects your health is important.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland that sits in the front of the neck. There are variations on its position and overall shape between individuals. The gland is responsible for producing, storing and releasing thyroid hormones T4 and T3 for the entire body. Another hormone, Calcitonin is also produced by specific cells in the thyroid gland.

What is T4 and T3?

With the thyroid gland being small and unassuming, hidden away there in the neck, it is not surprising that most people never give it a second thought until something goes wrong with it.  This small gland plays major roles in metabolic rates and influences practically every organ system in the body. Thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) are necessary for human life and without any thyroid hormone an individual would eventually die from causes directly related to a hormone deficiency.
What happens when there is something wrong with the gland, you wonder? Well, that depends on what is actually wrong. You can think of problems with the gland as either related to hormone production or related to the structure of the gland itself.
One of the thyroid problems most likely to grab a person's attention is called a goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid gland that can easily be seen in a person's neck.  Sometimes you may not see it as much as feel it, for instance when swallowing. A thyroid nodule is a specific lump that is felt on the gland, and can be benign or cancerous. Goiters and thyroid nodules should always be evaluated thoroughly by a health professional to ensure they are not cause for concern, especially in regard to the possibility of cancer.

How do you detect a problem?

Thyroid hormone problems can happen with or without the actual gland becoming large or changing shape. Hypothyroidism, a low level of thyroid hormone, is one of the most common hormonal conditions diagnosed in the United States. It is more common in women than men but affects both genders, all age groups and all ethnicities to varying degrees.
Hyperthyroidism, a high level of thyroid hormone, is also relatively common. Both conditions can cause a wide variety of symptoms, from mild to severe, and despite common patterns for either disorder vary from person to person.
One of the most difficult aspects of diagnosing and treating a thyroid hormone condition of either type is that the symptoms are not very specific to thyroid disease: you can have symptoms that seem consistent with thyroid hormone disorder but not have it, and vice versa you can have symptoms of other health issues but instead have an underlying thyroid hormone disorder. The only way to know is to have your thyroid hormone level checked and interpreted by a health provider who is well versed in thyroid disease and treatments. 
Thyroid hormone disorders are diagnosed through blood testing, and there are several treatments available for both low thyroid hormone and high thyroid hormone levels. The exact treatment chosen will depend on a review not only of your hormone levels but other health factors and your individual preferences, which will be taken into consideration by your healthcare provider.
At your next check-up, ask your doctor to check your thyroid. Issues with the thyroid can be tested, addressed and treated. If you're worried about your thyroid, call the Roper Endocrinology department at (843) 720-8438. Office hours are Mon. – Thur., 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. 

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