Thyroid disorders FAQ

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1. What is a thyroid gland?
Everyone has a thyroid gland. It is a butterfly shaped gland and is situated in the front of your neck.
2. What is the function of my thyroid gland?
Your thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones which are essential for regulating many aspects of your body’s metabolism. Thyroid hormones have effects on virtually all your organ systems. They regulate your appetite, weight, heart rate, respiration, digestive system, muscle function, nerve function, sweating, mood, bone turnover and menstrual cycles.
3. What are T3 and T4?
Your thyroid produces two hormones, T4 and T3. The level of these hormones can be measured in your blood. Most of the T3 that is measured in your blood is from conversion of T4 to T3 by various tissues in your body.
4. What is TSH?
TSH stands for thyroid stimulating hormone. It is produced by the pituitary gland in your brain and it controls the amount of thyroid hormone your thyroid produces. It also serves as a sensitive indicator of the adequacy of the amount of thyroid hormone in your blood. A high TSH indicates you have too little thyroid hormone in your blood and a low TSH indicates you have too much thyroid hormone in your blood.
5. What is a goitre?
Goitre means an enlarged thyroid gland. Normally, your thyroid gland cannot be seen or felt in your neck. When it enlarges, it can present as a neck swelling and can be felt as an enlargement in your neck that moves upwards with swallowing. Many thyroid conditions can cause your thyroid gland to be enlarged and hence present as a goitre.
6. What conditions can affect my thyroid?
You can develop thyrotoxicosis. This is a condition when thyroid gland becomes overactive and produces excess thyroid hormone. You can develop hypothyroidism. This is a condition when your thyroid gland does not produce sufficient thyroid hormone. You can have nodules developing in your thyroid giving rise to a multinodular goitre. You can develop thyroid cancer.
7. What are the symptoms of thyrotoxicosis?
The following are some of the common symptoms of thyrotoxicosis:
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Heat intolerance & sweating
  • Hand tremors
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Increased irritability
  • Bulging eyes
  • Neck swelling
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irregular menses
  • Loose stools
  • Nausea & vomiting
8. What are the causes of thyrotoxicosis?
The most common cause is Graves’ disease. This is a condition where your immune system produces abnormal antibodies that stimulate your thyroid to produce excess thyroid hormone. Other causes include inflammation of the thyroid or nodules in the thyroid that produce excess thyroid hormone.
9. How is thyrotoxicosis treated?
Thyrotoxicosis can be treated with medication, radioactive iodine or surgery.
10. What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
The following are some of the common symptoms of hypothyroidism:
  • Cold intolerance
  • Weight gain
  • Poor appetite
  • Puffiness of the face
  • Neck swelling
  • Muscle aches
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Slowness of thought
  • Low mood
  • Lethargy
11. What are the causes of hypothyroidism?
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This is a condition where your immune system destroys part of your thyroid gland. Other causes are thyroid surgery and after treatment with radioactive iodine.
12. How is hypothyroidism treated?
Hypothyroidism is treated with thyroid hormone replacement.
13. Should I worry about a nodule in my thyroid gland?
Thyroid nodules are common. They are more common in women and increase in frequency and number with age. Thyroid nodules can be present in up to 50% of women in their 50s. They can present as a visible lump in your neck but are also commonly picked up incidentally on CT scans or PET scans. Approximately 5% of thyroid nodules are cancerous so all thyroid nodules should be evaluated.
14. How do I check if my thyroid nodule is cancerous?
Your doctor will usually order an ultrasound of your thyroid to look at the size and characteristics of the nodule. If is recommended that larger solid nodules or nodules that have suspicious features on ultrasound undergo a fine-needle biopsy to see if they are cancerous. An ultrasound-guided biopsy is helpful especially for smaller nodules.
15. How is thyroid cancer treated?
Thyroid cancer is treated with surgery. This is sometimes followed by radioactive iodine treatment and thyroid hormone suppression.

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