Jumoke Ladapo, MD, family practitioner, Lillington Medical Services
The thyroid gland is located on the front part of your neck below the thyroid cartilage, an area also known as your “Adam’s apple.” This gland produces thyroid hormones, which regulate your body’s metabolism and body energy and help your body work properly.
Diseases of the thyroid gland can result in either production of too much thyroid hormone, which is called overactive thyroid disease or hyperthyroidism, or too little thyroid hormone, also known as underactive thyroid disease or hypothyroidism. Other thyroid issues may include nodules and/or goiters. A nodule is any abnormal growth that forms a lump in the thyroid gland, while a goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland that is normally caused by an iodine deficiency. Some nodules can easily be felt, while others can be hidden deep in the thyroid tissue or located very low in the gland, where they are difficult to feel. Although the majority of thyroid nodules are benign (not cancerous), about 10% of nodules do contain cancer. Thyroid cancer is a disease that occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow in your thyroid gland, but it is quite uncommon. Most people who have thyroid cancer receive a good outcome, because the cancer is usually found early, and the treatments work well.
All types of thyroid problems are much more common in women than in men. Symptoms of thyroid problems depend on the age of the person and the exact problem with the thyroid. Many of my adult patients who suffer from an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) experience fatigue and exhaustion, constipation, a low tolerance to cold temperatures, and even carpal tunnel syndrome (pain at the wrists and numbness of the hands). It can also contribute to high cholesterol. On the other hand, my patients who have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) often have insomnia, hand tremors and nervousness.Thyroid problems can also occur in children, and their symptoms are similar to those adults experience. They might also feel excessive fatigue, have slow physical growth, and sometimes do poorly in school.
While there is no known way to prevent hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, most thyroid problems can be managed well if properly diagnosed through a series of blood tests, body scans and/or ultrasounds. As a family practitioner, I encourage you to have a complete physical each year, and let your doctor know if you are experiencing any of the symptoms I’ve mentioned above. Treatment is available, and improved health is just around the corner.