The thyroid gland is the biggest gland in the neck. The sole function of the thyroid is to make thyroid hormone, called iodine. This hormone has an effect on nearly all tissues of the body where it increases cellular activity. Therefore the growth and development of all the body's tissues are dependent on the thyroid glands proper functioning.
Common Thyroid Disorders
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid); when the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone (thyroxine). When the thyroid gland is overactive it makes too much thyroxine. The extra thyroxine causes many of the body's functions to speed up. Symptoms can include increased heart rate, weight loss, depression and cognitive slowing. Treatment is by medication, the use of radioactive iodine, thyroid surgery or reducing the dose of thyroid hormone.
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid); means a reduced level of thyroid hormone (thyroxine). This causes many of the body's functions to slow down. Symptoms include tiredness, weight gain, constipation, aches, dry skin, lifeless hair and feeling cold. Treatment is usually by taking a tablet each day to replace the missing thyroxine. Treatment usually works well and symptoms usually cease.
- Goiters; an enlargement of the thyroid gland. Goiters are often removed because of cosmetic reasons or more commonly become compressed against other vital structures of the neck including the trachea and the oesophagus making breathing and swallowing difficult.
- Benign (non-cancerous) Nodules; an abnormal growth that forms a lump in the thyroid gland. Benign nodules can be removed surgically if they are causing difficulty in swallowing or are painful.
- Thyroid cancer; a common malignancy, and the vast majority can be successfully treated. Four main types of thyroid cancer are papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic thyroid cancer. The four types are based on how the cancer cells look under a microscope. Treatment usually includes surgery to remove (thyroidectomy) all of the thyroid gland. After a thyroidectomy, thyroid hormone supplements will have to be taken for life.