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Get to Know Your Neck: Thyroid Awareness Month

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The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located near the front of the neck below the Adam's apple. The wings of the butterfly, or lobes, rest next to the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus. Although relatively small, the thyroid gland influences the function of many of the body’s most important organs, including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin. Therefore, if affected, a multitude of health complications can ensue.

An estimated 200 million people around the world are affected by thyroid disease and if left untreated, can cause conditions such as change in weight or energy, mental slowing or racing thoughts, palpitations, hair loss, heat/cold intolerance and depression. Thyroid disease can be functional, with either too much or too little hormone produced, structural, with the development of nodules and even cancer, or both. Although thyroid nodules are very common, particularly with increasing age, thyroid cancer occurs in less than 5% of nodules - risk factors include a family history of thyroid cancer and radiation exposure to the head and neck in amounts far greater than seen in routine x-rays or CT scans.

Nonetheless, thyroid cancer is increasing in incidence in both men and women, and most cases are curable if identified early. Use these tips to perform your own thyroid self-exam at home, or visit your doctor to learn more about symptoms and treatment.

How to perform a thyroid neck self-exam:

  • Face a mirror
  • Take a sip of water
  • Tilt your head back, while still being able to see the mirror
  • When you swallow the water, look for any lumps or areas below the Adam's apple that are different from one side to the other

Thyroid nodules are usually round in shape and move with the gland when you swallow. You may feel an enlarged thyroid (goiter) or nodule rolling underneath your fingertips or see it move when you swallow - but you may also simply notice your thyroid gland! If you find any lumps or swelling in this area that are more prominent on one side than the other, or if you experience any of the symptoms noted above, please talk to your doctor, who can evaluate you with blood tests and, if appropriate, a thyroid ultrasound. You may also seek consultation with an endocrinologist, a medical expert in thyroid disease, or an experienced thyroid surgeon - these surgeons may be otolaryngologists, general surgeons, or endocrine surgeons.

The Ochsner thyroid/parathyroid team includes experienced endocrinologists, otolaryngologists, general surgeons, endocrine surgeons, radiologists, and pathologists. We offer state of the art diagnostics and therapies, united by our multidisciplinary, team-based approach to thyroid disease.

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