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Thyroid - What Have You Done for Me Lately?: December 1, 2013

What is approximately two inches long weighs less than an ounce and makes a pair of important hormones, which regulate the way your body uses energy? The thyroid - something people don’t appreciate until something goes wrong.

“Most of the time it’s because they have a mass in the thyroid, they feel it or sometimes they have problems swallowing,” says Dr. William Kokal, general surgeon with Lee Memorial Health System.

The mass can be cancerous or harmless. Doctors will determine which.

“Our typical work up is we get an ultrasound with a biopsy and if that shows suspicious for cancer, or cancer, then we would do surgery. It’s done in the skin crease to hide the scar the best. Rather than an incision from one side of the neck to the other, we make an incision an inch or less,” says Dr. Kokal.

Many times problems stem from the inner workings. When all is well, the thyroid regulates metabolism. But if it under-produces or over-produces hormones, it can have a real impact on your health.

“Typically their calcium is elevated. And in the work up they find it secondary to primary hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism can cause problems peptic ulcer disease; it can cause mental confusion, kidney stones, and pancreatitis. So it can cause a dramatic amount of problems if left untreated,” says Dr. Kokal.

Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are diagnosed by measuring levels of TSH in the bloodstream. The low producing hypothyroidism may be controlled by medication drugs are less treatable in hyperthyroidism and patients may undergo thyroid removal.

“In general it’s a pretty safe procedure. They will be back to work in 4 to 5 days. Usually they have a sore throat. But generally a very fast recovery,” says Dr. Kokal.

While there is no replacement for a working thyroid- the body can get by with synthetic hormone replacement.