What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a gland in the neck that wraps around the front of the trachea. The thyroid produces a hormone that regulates cellular function in most of the body.
Different disease processes may involve the thyroid. These include abnormal hormone production, nodules, and cancer.
Thyroid function may be too low or too high. Most of the time, these conditions can be treated medically. Graves disease is a disorder where the body makes antibodies against the thyroid that causes overstimulation. Left untreated, this could lead to exophthalmos, where swelling and fibrosis occur in the eye muscles that could lead to permanent vision loss. At this point, surgery is usually the best option to prevent further damage.
Nodules can develop in the thyroid. Most of these are benign (not cancerous) and don’t cause any problems. Sometimes, the thyroid increases in size (goiter) where it causes compression of the trachea and esophagus. This may result in pain, difficulty swallowing, and breathing.
Thyroid cancer is a relatively common malignancy. Often, it is identified as a nodule on ultrasound. Usually, when a nodule becomes over 1 cm in size, a needle biopsy should be performed. This may be done with palpation or ultrasound guidance. The skin is numbed with a local anesthetic, a needle is placed in the nodule, and suction is performed. This usually takes less than a minute, and only mild discomfort is experienced. Other tests that may be performed include CAT scan and thyroid scan.
Thyroidectomy is the removal of part or all of the thyroid gland. This is usually accomplished through a 2-inch incision in the lower part of the neck. Patients are sent home from the hospital either the same day or the next morning. Complications specific to thyroidectomy are infrequent and include hoarseness of voice (due to injury of the vocal nerve running along with the thyroid) and low calcium (by affecting the blood supply to the parathyroid glands).