- Marcos Santos, Ph.D
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Hold on! First of all, it’s important for you to know that the THYROID is not the name of a disease but rather the name of a VERY IMPORTANT gland in our body! Everyone is born with a thyroid! It’s located in your neck, just below the “Adam’s apple,” and it has the shape of a butterfly!
This gland produces essential hormones for our metabolism, such as T3 and T4, which regulate the functions of the heart, brain, liver, and even the kidneys! Problems with the thyroid can either influence or not the levels of hormone production (either too much or too little), and depending on the case, it can be serious or not.
What are the main problems with the thyroid?
- Hypothyroidism: When the thyroid produces fewer hormones than necessary. It can be the cause of memory disorders, increased cholesterol levels, muscle and joint pain, excessive fatigue (including drowsiness), and even depression.
- Hyperthyroidism: When the thyroid produces more hormones than necessary. It can be the cause of excessive restlessness, (speech, gestures, thoughts), false sense of high energy, but with fatigue. The heart may beat faster, and the bowels may become looser!
- Thyroiditis: Thyroiditis is a general term that refers to inflammation of the thyroid gland, which can cause an excess or decrease in hormone levels, leading to either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. The most common types of thyroiditis are Hashimoto’s (autoimmune), Acute, Subacute, Postpartum, and others.
- Nodules: These are “lumps” that appear in the gland and can be either benign (90% of cases) or malignant (cancer – 10% of cases). The investigation of nodules begins with an ultrasound evaluation. If the doctor suspects malignancy, the next step is a fine-needle aspiration biopsy (known as FNA). This FNA will help the physician classify the nodule as benign, malignant, or indeterminate. Depending on the result of this FNA, further molecular investigation (genetic testing) may be necessary to help classify the nodule and understand its aggressiveness.
Answering the initial question: Is the thyroid serious?
Well, unfortunately, there is no single answer. Thyroid diseases can be serious or not, depending on each case. So, if you have undergone any tests (blood tests, ultrasound, fine-needle aspiration biopsy (FNA), molecular testing, or others) that showed abnormalities or left you uncertain, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor to understand whether it is serious or not! The endocrinologist or head and neck surgeon are the most appropriate specialists to discuss thyroid problems.