First your doctor will ask about your medical history, detailed information on your symptoms, and if other family members have had thyroid problems. The doctor will look at your neck and thyroid gland to check for growth, nodules or other changes. You may have a blood test to see if your thyroid is underworking or overworking. A radioiodine uptake test can be given to see how well your thyroid absorbs iodine. A thyroid scan and an ultrasound exam will create images of the thyroid gland which helps your doctor access nodules.
Your doctor may order a fine-needle aspiration biopsy if you have a nodule, to determine whether the nodule is cancerous.
The thyroid gland is a small gland at the base of your neck, that’s shaped like a butterfly. In general, the thyroid is responsible for the energy levels of your body because the thyroid gland affects the rate at which your organs work. This is done through the release of hormones, and is what we call metabolism.
Your thyroid gland makes the thyroid hormone from iodine, which is absorbed from the food you eat. When more thyroid hormone is made, the cells work more quickly. And when less thyroid hormone is made, the cells work more slowly. The pituitary gland works in conjunction with the thyroid.
Common thyroid problems
- Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is not working hard enough and produces too little hormone. This causes your body to run more slowly and have less energy. The most common cause is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Common symptoms include getting cold easily, gaining weight, constipation, muscle pain, and decreases in energy or feelings of depression.
- Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland works too hard and produces too much hormone. This causes your body to run faster. The common cause is Grave’s disease which occurs when the body’s immune system overstimulates the thyroid. Less commonly, the cells of a nodule in your neck may produce more hormone than the rest of the gland causing hyperthyroidism. Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include: losing weight, getting hot quickly, rapid heartbeat, hair loss, nervous or jitter feeling.
- Thyroid nodules are small lumps that grow on the thyroid gland. These nodules don’t necessary cause problems with the thyroid. Even if you don’t have symptoms, you may be able to feel the nodule in your neck. Nodules are usually harmless, but occasionally they are cancerous.
- A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland. It looks like swelling on one or both sides of your beck. Hypothyroidism can cause a goiter because the thyroid may enlarge in order to produce more hormone. Additionally, hyperthyroidism may cause a goiter because thyroid cells may multiply too fast and cause the thyroid to grow. It’s also possible that the growth of multiple nodules may cause the thyroid to increase in size as well.