What Is the Thyroid Gland, Exactly? Many of us only consider the health of our endocrine system—particularly the thyroid gland—when we’re trying to lose weight, but the thyroid plays an important role in the control of a wide variety of bodily functions. By producing unique hormones, the thyroid enables the healthy function of the brain, heart, liver, kidneys, and much more. When the thyroid is unable to produce these hormones properly, it can lead to numerous symptoms (e.g., joint pain, fatigue, etc.).
Common Thyroid Conditions
A condition marked by an underactive thyroid that does not make sufficient amounts of hormone. Symptoms can include a constant feeling of coldness, difficulty losing weight, constipation, dry skin, fatigue, and more.¹
The opposite of hypothyroidism, this condition is marked by an overactive thyroid that produces an excess of thyroid hormone. Symptoms can include unexplained weight loss, shaking and nervousness, sweating, fast heartbeat, and more.²
These are small lumps in the thyroid tissue that can be either benign or cancerous. They can cause sudden weight loss, irritability, rapid heartbeat, and other troubling symptoms. If a doctor finds a nodule, he or she will likely order a biopsy to determine whether the lump is benign or indicates thyroid cancer.
- Thyroid cancer
If a nodule is found to be cancerous, the focus will shift toward thyroid cancer removal and prevention against spreading throughout the body. Thyroid cancer removal surgery typically involves removing the thyroid, either partially (lobectomy) or completely (thyroidectomy).³
Screening and Testing for Thyroid Problems
Whether you suspect a thyroid problem or simply want to keep an eye on your overall health, it’s important to have your thyroid function tested by a medical professional. Detecting specific thyroid issues is typically done using a variety of specialized tests: 4
- Blood tests
The primary method of detection for thyroid problems is blood testing. Because the thyroid produces a variety of different hormones and antibodies, there are several different tests that can be run from a blood draw:
- TSH test – Measures the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood. This hormone is made by the pituitary gland to stimulate thyroid function.
- T4 test – Measures the level of the T4 hormone (thyroxine), the primary hormone produced by the thyroid gland.
- T3 test – Measures the level of the T3 hormone (triiodothyronine), the chemical that T4 is converted into during use.
- Antibody test – Measures the levels of specific antibodies (e.g., anti-thyroid peroxidase, anti-thyroglobulin) in the blood. The presence of such antibodies can indicate different diagnoses based on the results of the other tests.
- Radioactive iodine uptake test (RAIU)
The thyroid requires a significant amount of iodine to properly produce the iodine-rich T4 hormone. Because iodine is radioactive, it shows up nicely in various imaging scans. A high uptake of radioactive iodine may indicate hyperthyroidism, while an unusually low uptake may indicate hypothyroidism.
Need Thyroid Surgery? The Surgery Group of Los Angeles Can Help
If you have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition that requires surgery (or if you need a biopsy performed on a nodule), the expert surgeons at The Surgery Group of LA can do what needs to be done with precision and care. Contact us today to make an appointment with Dr. Jason Cohen, one of the nation’s best thyroid surgeons.