The thyroid gland is a part of the endocrine system and is described as a two-inch long butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck of the human body. It has two lobes and is connected by a tissue called isthmus.
The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating thyroid hormones. The main function of these hormones is for metabolism, which means that they help in maintaining the maximum function of cells in the human body.
There are instances that the function of the thyroid gland and thyroid hormones are altered. For instance, there could be too much or too little production of thyroid hormones, which results in the enlargement of the thyroid gland and formation of thyroid nodules.
Thyroid Nodules Defined
There are people who have lumps on their neck area but are not aware what those lumps are. Often, such condition is not a concern for most of them. Thyroid nodules do not show signs and symptoms unless a person undergoes diagnostic examination like ultrasound, x-ray, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or CT scan.
The abnormal cell growth within the thyroid gland is known as thyroid nodules. This condition is characterized by the formation of lumps within the thyroid gland. The lumps are either fluid-filled or are solid lumps. According to some studies, the risk of patients having an obvious lump is 5-10%, while those who are seen after diagnostic examination have a 19-68% risk
Some people diagnosed with thyroid lumps are concerned with the severity of the condition. Their highest concern is the possibility of them developing thyroid cancer. The good news for this people is that research shows that thyroid nodules do not progress to cancer within 5 years for 85% of patients. On the other hand, the remaining 15% have significant changes after follow up. In conclusion, benign thyroid nodules grow but are less likely to develop into cancer.
Identifying Thyroid Nodules
Another concern among health-conscious people is identifying the presence of thyroid nodule. It is said that these thyroid nodules do not present physical signs and symptoms at all times. Most of the time, patients discover the lumps by accident.
In some cases, lumps can be seen and palpated in the neck area. This is commonly seen during physical examination. The affected area may cause shortness or difficulty of breathing when pressed. In more progressive cases, some of the symptoms include sudden weight loss, tremors, profuse sweating, and irregular heart rate.
The signs and symptoms produced by thyroid nodules can be compared to those of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, and it is important to know these facts.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. Here are some of its symptoms:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle weakness
- Sudden weight loss
- Difficulty sleeping
- Amenorrhea (absence of menstrual period)
- Vision problems
- Sensitivity to heat
- Irregular heartbeat
- Changes in appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Experience skin itch
- Thinning hair or hair loss
- Skin flushes on the neck, upper chest or head
Meanwhile, hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland produces less thyroid hormone. Here are its symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Feeling tired at all times
- irregular menstrual periods (heavy and frequent)
- easily forget things
- Weakness and irritability
- Rough and dry skin and hair
- Sensitivity to cold temperatures
It is advisable to seek medical help in case of nervousness, pounding heart, difficulty sleeping, extreme weakness, hoarseness of voice, neck pain, and sudden weight loss despite increased or normal appetite.
Who are at Risk?
Thyroid nodules if left undiagnosed may result in life-threatening complications. It is important to know if a person is at risk of this condition. Here are the following elements to keep in mind:
- Your family has a history of thyroid nodules or thyroid syndrome; the condition is considered genetic or hereditary.
- Your age is older than 60 or younger than 30 years old.
- You went through radiation therapy on any part of your upper chest, neck, and head.
- Your gender is male.
If you belong to any of these categories, it is advisable to talk to your doctor to avoid problems in the future. As the cliché goes, prevention is better than cure.
Causes of Thyroid Nodules
The cause of the formation of thyroid nodule is not clear. However, there are health conditions that are considered to contribute to the development of thyroid nodules. It includes thyroid cancer, thyroid adenoma, thyroiditis, iodine deficiency, and thyroid cyst.
How It Is Diagnosed
In case of unintentional discovery of thyroid nodule, the main goal of the doctor is to determine the severity and the type of the lump formed in the neck area. The following are the method of diagnosing thyroid nodules.
- Thyroid ultrasound – It is used to determine whether the thyroid nodule is solid or filled with fluid. It is also used to guide the needle during needle biopsy.
- FNAB (fine needle aspiration biopsy of the thyroid) – This is a simple procedure that does not require anesthesia. It uses a very small needle to aspirate a small portion of the lump for testing. This procedure will determine if the thyroid nodule is cancerous or not.
- Thyroid function test – This is done to measure the level of thyroid hormones, such as thyroxine, TSH, T3, and T4.
- Thyroid scan – This is done to evaluate thyroid nodules. During the process, iodine is introduced into the blood vessels. While iodine is running through the veins, it will determine hot or called nodules.
Treatment and Recommendation
Treatment and management of thyroid nodules will depend on the severity of the lumps. The following are the list of regimen you can check:
- Thyroid hormone suppression therapy – It stimulates the pituitary gland to produce less TSH that will help regulate the production of thyroxine. This therapy is done by taking pills in a specified period.
- Surgery – This is done if the nodule is too big and causes difficulty in breathing or swallowing.
- Radioactive iodine – This is usually in liquid or capsule form. The lump is expected to shrink 2-3 months after the therapy.
- Anti-thyroid medications – Certain medication is prescribed by doctors to lessen the signs and symptoms. In this regimen, precaution is necessary since it can have a negative side effect on the liver.
- Alcohol ablation – This procedure involves the introduction of alcohol to nodules. It is done for cancerous thyroid nodules.
Although thyroid nodules do not immediately develop into cancer, undergoing treatment and medication prescribed is still necessary not only to avoid any health risk, but also to establish peace of mind to the patient as well.