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Thyroid Cancer Checkup

What's Happening in Your Thyroid Gland?

Think of your thyroid as setting your body’s tempo. This quarter-sized, butterfly-shaped gland below your Adam’s apple secretes hormones which influence everything from metabolism and heart rate, to body temperature and mood. Too much or too little hormone can cause weight gain or weight loss, restlessness or fatigue and a variety of other symptoms.

More than 12% of the U.S population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime and it’s five to eight times more likely to happen to women, according to the American Thyroid Association. More than half (60%) are unaware they have a thyroid disease. Left undiagnosed, these conditions can put you at risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, infertility and other serious conditions.

What are the Most Common Thyroid Diseases?

Autoimmune diseases are the most common cause of thyroid disorders, but radiation therapy and certain medications can also affect the thyroid.

Two common and similar disorders are hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. With these conditions, the thyroid is under-active and does not make enough hormones.

Symptoms of Thyroid Gland Disorders

  • Fatigue, feeling tired or sluggish
  • Cold feet and/or hands
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty with or infrequent bowel movements
  • Depression or lack of motivation
  • Morning headaches that go away as the day progresses
  • Thinning hair or excessive hair falling out
  • Requiring excessive amounts of sleep to function
  • Dry skin and/or scalp
  • Mental sluggishness

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

Another name for hyperthyroidism is overactive thyroid because it makes more hormone than your body needs.

  • Heart palpitations
  • Inward trembling
  • Increased pulse, even at rest
  • Nervous and emotional mood
  • Insomnia
  • Night sweats
  • Difficulty gaining weight

What Else Can Develop in the Thyroid Gland?

Cancer can also strike the thyroid, and it’s the sixth most common cancer in women. Curable in most cases, it usually does not cause symptoms. Sometimes a swelling or lump in the neck can occur along with a hoarse voice or problems swallowing. The primary treatment is to remove much or all of the thyroid gland and possibly radioiodine therapy.

Some Thyroid Cancer Risks are:

  • Radiation exposure
  • Family history of medullary thyroid cancer
  • Family history of goiters or colon growths
  • Personal history of goiter or benign thyroid nodules
  • Being female
  • Being older than 45
  • Too little or too much iodine in the diet

If you have concerning symptoms or questions about your thyroid, talk to your primary care provider. Thyroid function tests are used to diagnose these conditions. This series of blood tests measures how well your thyroid gland is working. Medications are typically the first line of treatment, though surgery may be needed to remove most or all of the thyroid.

Courtney Fuller, BSN, RN, OCN
Courtney Fuller, BSN, RN, OCN

Courtney Fuller is a Nurse Navigator at CHI Health.

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