The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ situated in the throat, next to the voice box and windpipe. It’s a gland that serves to create and secrete hormones, a process that depends on a substance called iodine, a substance that’s unique to hormones produced by the thyroid.
The hormones produced by the thyroid are referred to as T3 and T4; they serve many functions, but are often referred to as “metabolic hormones” because they influence our basal metabolic rate, aka how much energy we use when at rest. T3 and T4 are also essential to produce proteins, as well as produce tissues from when we’re in the womb through childhood. The two hormones are also particularly important in the healthy development of the nervous system, and are involved in its continued support in adulthood. Additionally, they have complicated relationships with our reproductive hormones, and can influence fertility, sex drive, and other reproductive behaviors if there’s an imbalance of them. And if the hormones are made in excess, it can cause our heart rate and blood pressure to rise, as well as strengthen our heartbeat.
The thyroid’s anatomy is quite simple: it’s comprised of wing-shaped left and right lobes, with a middle region known as the isthmus connecting the two; this gives the glandular organ its butterfly-like shape.
Sometimes, solid or fluid-filled lumps known as thyroid nodules can grow within the thyroid. The condition is largely benign and asymptomatic, and is cancerous in only a minute percentage of cases. Often times, people don’t even realize they have a thyroid nodule unless their physician finds it in the middle of a routine visit to the doctor.
Sometimes, however, thyroid nodules could grow large enough to the point that they may:
- Be visible, frequently as a swelling at the neck’s base
- Be felt
- Press on the esophagus or windpipe, leading to difficulty swallowing or shortness of breath
Thyroid nodules may also produce a hormone secreted by the thyroid called thyroxine, causing symptoms of hyperthyroidism including:
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Unexplained, unintentional weight loss
- Increased perspiration
- Difficulty sleeping
- Muscle weakness
The Mayo clinic suggests you see a doctor if you notice any abnormal swelling in your neck, or if you develop any of the aforementioned signs of hyperthyroidism. If your physician detects a thyroid nodule, it’s likely they’ll recommend a biopsy to get a better look at the cells within it. Your treatment will depend on what type of thyroid nodule you have.
The Ezra full-body scan may detect thyroid nodules. If you’re interested in learning more about our screening options, you may do so here.