The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits directly over the windpipe in the front of the neck. It produces thyroid hormone from iodine in two major forms:
- T4 (thyroxine) - the inactive or storage form of thyroid hormone
- T3 (liothyronine) - the active form of thyroid hormone
Thyroid hormones affect almost every tissue and help regulate many functions in the body, including metabolism, mood, temperature, and growth. The two most common thyroid diseases are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid diseases encompass a range of disorders, including:
- Hypothyroidism: This condition occurs when the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormones. It can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, and cold sensitivity.
- Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism is the opposite of hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland produces an excess of thyroid hormones. Symptoms may include weight loss, rapid heartbeat, and anxiety.
- Thyroid nodules: These are lumps or abnormal growths in the thyroid gland. While most nodules are benign, some can be cancerous.
- Thyroid cancer: Thyroid cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the thyroid gland. It can usually be treated successfully if detected early.
- Hashimoto's Thyroiditis: This is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, leading to hypothyroidism.
- Graves' Disease: Another autoimmune disorder, Graves' disease causes hyperthyroidism and can lead to bulging eyes and skin problems.
- Thyroiditis: This is inflammation of the thyroid gland, which can be due to infections or other causes.
- Goiter: A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland, often due to iodine deficiency or thyroid disease.
Common thyroid disorder symptoms
- Cold sensitivity
- Dry skin
- Hair changes
- Memory problems
- Menstrual irregularities
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Weight changes
- Rapid heartbeat
- Heat sensitivity
- Muscle weakness
- Changes in bowel habits
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your St. Luke's Health primary care physician or endocrinologist to discover more.
Advanced treatments for thyroid disease
- Levothyroxine replacement: The most common treatment for hypothyroidism is hormone replacement therapy with levothyroxine, a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone T4. Patients take a daily dose to maintain normal thyroid hormone levels.
- Anti-thyroid medications: Medications like methimazole and propylthiouracil (PTU) can be prescribed to block the overproduction of thyroid hormones. These drugs are often used as a temporary measure to stabilize hormone levels.
- Radioactive iodine (RAI) therapy: RAI therapy involves the oral ingestion of radioactive iodine, which targets and destroys overactive thyroid tissue. This treatment is often used for more persistent hyperthyroidism.
- Thyroid surgery: In some cases, surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid gland, known as a thyroidectomy, may be recommended, especially if medications and RAI therapy are not effective or are contraindicated.
- For some thyroid conditions, such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis or iodine deficiency, dietary modifications and lifestyle changes may be recommended. These can include ensuring adequate iodine intake, adopting a healthy diet, and managing stress.
Our experts use the latest breakthroughs and innovations in the surgical treatment of endocrine disorders, including scarless thyroid removal using the transoral vestibular approach (TOVA). Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center is currently the only center in Texas that performs this novel procedure.