The thyroid gland, which is located in the front part of the neck and above the collarbone, is responsible in secreting hormones that manage several functions of the body. Thyroid problems occur when there is either an excessive amount or few hormones that are secreted by the thyroid gland, which are conditions that are referred to as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism respectively.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATS), an estimated 20 million Americans are affected by thyroid disease that may be mild, severe, benign or cancerous in form. Women as more prone to this kind of disease than men. Among the 20 million affected people, 60% of them are unaware that they have thyroid problems.
The may appear as a small organ, but it has a major role in affecting the cellular activities in the body. An under diagnosed thyroid problem can lead to other serious illnesses such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases and even miscarriage in pregnant women.
Symptoms of thyroid problems
Hyperthyroidism is the secretion of excessive hormones by the thyroid gland. Its symptoms include:
- Heat intolerance that results in excessive sweating
- Irregularity of the menstrual cycle of women
- Anxiety and irritability accompanied by extreme fatigue
- Muscle weakness on several occasions
- Blurred vision
When the thyroid gland secretes too much hormones, it is usually because of several underlying illnesses such as a disorder in the immune system called Grave's disease. Grave's disease is common in women ages 40 years and above. Hyperthyroidism can also be the result of an infection in the thyroid gland that enables it to secrete too much hormones. Hyperthyroidism can be treated by taking medicine that reduces the amount of hormones produced.
Hypothyroidism is the inability of the thyroid gland to produce enough hormones necessary to regulate the functions of the body. Its symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Scaly skin and dry hair
- Irregular menstruation for women
- Fatigue and constipation
Hypothyroidism happens when the thyroid gland is attacked by the immune system. People who are diagnosed with hypothyroidism undergo several medications, specifically the T4. Those who started taking the T4 are said to take the medication their entire life. T4 can lead to complications if the right dosage is not prescribed. An initial dosage may change throughout the process, depending on the development of the disease.
Thyroid nodules are small inflamed bumps surrounding the thyroid gland. Once these nodules flare up, they can turn into cancerous lumps. The nodules can be easily detected by doctors by feeling it with bare hands during a routine examination. If they suspect something more serious, doctors may perform several tests to confirm it.
Not all nodules are cancerous. In fact, after a doctor performs a biopsy and turns out to be non-cancerous, no treatment is needed. They may opt to remove it, but otherwise, it is generally safe. If the nodule on the other hand is cancerous, surgery is performed. After surgery, a patient usually undergoes an iodine radioactive treatment.
Signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer
Most thyroid problems are non-cancerous and can be treated by taking medicines prescribed by the doctor. Thyroid cancer shows more serious symptoms such as the following:
- Swelling in the neck is one of the most common symptoms of thyroid cancer. This is when the nodules become swollen more than their normal size. They also tend to be physically obvious around the neck part.
- Pain surrounds the neck that escalates to the ear.
- Difficulty breathing caused by the lump blocking the airway.
- Hoarseness that doesn't seem to go away for a period of time.
- Chronic cough that is very unusual or not caused by a cold.
These signs and symptoms do not automatically mean that a thyroid problem is cancerous. Most lumps are benign on a biopsy. Your doctor will perform several tests to determine the type of thyroid problem to properly address the succeeding treatment needed.
How to diagnose thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer can be diagnosed by doctors using the following procedures:
- Physical examination
Physical examination is the first step in determining whether a person has thyroid problems or not. Doctors are able to recommend further tests just by the result of the physical examination. Prior to this, the doctor may also ask for your medical history as well as if there is any other member of the family that has thyroid problems.
Imaging is done to determine the scope of the lump and to see whether it has spread to other parts of the thyroid gland. It is also used to see if there are other areas aside from a certain lump that has developed.
Ultrasound in the thyroid gland is similar to the ones performed in abdominal ultrasound. The sound waves produce images that are converted by the computer. A radiologist will then determine if the nodules are cancerous or not. Solid nodules are believed to be cancerous.
A biopsy is the process of taking small cells from the area and is brought to the laboratory for some testing. This may be the last resort in determining whether a thyroid problem is cancerous or not. The actual extraction of cells from the suspicious area will give an accurate result.
- Blood tests
Blood tests are also adequate to determine whether a thyroid problem is cancerous or not. However, blood tests can also show if the gland is normally working.
Thyroid problems unlike any other diseases can be easily detected. Doctors can also see developing thyroid problems just by performing routine physical checkup. Compared to other diseases, most thyroid cancers are treated successfully.