Thyroid Disorders

Insight into complications and treatment

  • What is a thyroid disorder?
  • What treatment may be recommended?
  • What is thyroid surgery?
  • and more...

Your thyroid gland is one of the endocrine glands that makes hormones to regulate physiological functions in your body, like metabolism (heart rate, sweating, energy consumed). Other endocrine glands include the pituitary, adrenal and parathyroid glands and specialized cells within the pancreas.

The thyroid gland is located in the middle of the lower neck, below the larynx (voice box) and wraps around the front half of the trachea (windpipe). It is shaped like a bow tie, just above the collarbones, having two halves (lobes) joined by a small tissue bar (isthmus.). You can’t always feel a normal thyroid gland.

What is a thyroid disorder?

Diseases of the thyroid gland are very common, affecting millions of Americans. The most common thyroid problems are:

  • An overactive gland, called hyperthyroidism (e.g., Graves’ disease, toxic adenoma or toxic nodular goiter)
  • An underactive gland, called hypothyroidism (e.g., Hashimoto’s thyroiditis)
  • Thyroid enlargement due to overactivity (as in Graves’ disease) or from under-activity (as in hypothyroidism). An enlarged thyroid gland is often called a “goiter”.

Patients with a family history of thyroid cancer or who had radiation therapy to the head or neck as children for acne, adenoids or other reasons are more prone to develop thyroid malignancy.

If you develop significant swelling in your neck or difficulty breathing or swallowing, you should call your surgeon or be seen in the emergency room.

What treatment may be recommended?

Depending on the nature of your condition, treatment may include the following:

Hypothyroidism treatment:

  • Thyroid hormone replacement pills

Hyperthyroidism treatment:

  • Medication to block the effects of excessive production of thyroid hormone
  • Radioactive iodine to destroy the thyroid gland
  • Surgical removal of the thyroid gland

Goiters (lumps):

If you experience this condition, your doctor will propose a treatment plan based on the examination and your test results. He or she may recommend:

  • An imaging study to determine the size, location and characteristics of any nodules within the gland. Types of imaging studies include CT or CAT scans, ultrasound or MRIs.
  • A fine-needle aspiration biopsy – a safe, relatively painless procedure. With this procedure, a hypodermic needle is passed into the lump, and tissue fluid samples containing cells are taken. Several passes with the needle may be required. Sometimes ultrasound is used to guide the needle into the nodule. There is little pain afterward and very few complications from the procedure. This test gives the doctor more information on the nature of the lump in your thyroid gland and may help to differentiate a benign from a malignant or cancerous thyroid mass.

Thyroid surgery may be required when:

  • the fine needle aspiration is reported as suspicious or suggestive of cancer
  • imaging shows that nodules have worrisome characteristics or that nodules are getting bigger
  • the trachea (windpipe) or esophagus are compressed because one or both lobes are very large

Historically, some thyroid nodules, including some that are malignant, have shown a reduction in size with the administration of thyroid hormone. However, this treatment, known as medical “suppression” therapy, has proven to be an unreliable treatment method.


© 2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery