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Thyroid Disease Affects Millions: March 23, 2014

Your thyroid; it’s a tiny, butterfly shaped gland that you’ve probably never given a second thought. But when it gets out of whack it causes people big problems.

“Most of the time it’s because they have a mass in the thyroid, they feel it or sometimes they have problems swallowing. And occasionally they have stridor or respiratory wheezing from a thyroid problem because it’s compressing on their windpipe,” says Dr. William Kokal, general surgeon with Lee Memorial Health System.

It’s estimated 12 percent of the US population will develop some type of thyroid problem.  Many can be treated with drug therapy unless there is a cancerous mass or it causes difficulty in the throat.

“Our typical work up is, we get an ultrasound with a biopsy and if that shows suspicion for cancer or cancer then we would do surgery. Other times we would do surgery again if it’s compressing the swallowing tubes,” says Dr. Kokal.

Having a thyroid that just doesn’t work right is the more common scenario. An underactive or overactive thyroid impacts the body’s hormone production.  The overactive, or hyperthyroidism, is the more serious condition and more difficult to manage. So in many instances, surgeons will remove the gland entirely through a minimally invasive procedure.

“We make a far smaller incision, rather than an incision from one side of the neck to the other we make an incision an inch or less. It’s an incision a curved incision in the base of the neck in a skin crease. It’s done in the skin crease to hide the scar,” says Dr. Kokal.

While the thyroid plays an important role in stabilizing metabolism, it can be replaced with medication doing what the body could not, leaving patients to a normal life.