The thyroid gland is a major endocrine organ and the biggest gland in the neck. It is situated in the anterior (front) neck below the skin and muscle layers. The thyroid gland takes the shape of a butterfly with the two wings being represented by the left and right thyroid lobes which wrap around the trachea.
The sole function of the thyroid is to make thyroid hormone. This hormone has an effect on nearly all tissues of the body where it increases cellular activity. The primary function of the thyroid, therefore, is to regulate the body's metabolism.
Common Thyroid Problems
The thyroid gland is prone to several very distinct problems, some of which are extremely common. These problems can be broken down into  those concerning the production of hormone (too much, or too little),  those due to increased growth of the thyroid, causing compression of important neck structures or simply appearing as a mass in the neck,  the formation of nodules or lumps within the thyroid which are worrisome for the presence of thyroid cancer, and  those which are cancerous.
Goiters ~ A thyroid goiter is a dramatic enlargement of the thyroid gland. Goiters are often removed because of cosmetic reasons or, more commonly, because they compress other vital structures of the neck including the trachea and the esophagus making breathing and swallowing difficult. Sometimes goiters will actually grow into the chest where they can cause trouble as well. Several nice x-rays will help explain all types of thyroid goiter problems.
Thyroid Cancer ~ Thyroid cancer is a fairly common malignancy, however, the vast majority have excellent long term survival rates. In future blog posts we will continue to discuss, as we have discussed in the past, the different characteristics of each type of thyroid cancer and its typical treatment, follow-up, and prognosis.
Solitary Thyroid Nodules ~ There are several characteristics of solitary nodules of the thyroid which make them suspicious for malignancy. Although as many as 50% of the population will have a nodule somewhere in their thyroid, the overwhelming majority of these are benign. Occasionally, thyroid nodules can take on characteristics of malignancy and require either a needle biopsy or surgical excision.
Hyperthyroidism ~ Hyperthyroidism means too much thyroid hormone. Current methods used for treating a hyperthyroid patient are radioactive iodine, anti-thyroid drugs, or surgery. Each method has advantages and disadvantages and is selected for individual patients. Many times the situation will suggest that all three methods are appropriate, while other circumstances will dictate a single best therapeutic option. Surgery is the least common treatment selected for hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism ~ Hypothyroidism means too little thyroid hormone and is a common problem. In fact, hypothyroidism is often present for a number of years before it is recognized and treated. There are several common causes, including thyroidectomy and treatment for thyroid cancer. However, hypothyroidism can even be associated with pregnancy. Treatment for all types of hypothyroidism is usually straightforward.
Thyroiditis ~ Thyroiditis is an inflammatory process ongoing within the thyroid gland. Thyroiditis can present with a number of symptoms such as fever and pain, but it can also present as subtle findings of hypo or hyper-thyroidism. There are a number of causes, some more common than others and your doctor is your best source information on this topic.