Thyroid Gland’s Importance Recognized During Thyroid Awareness Month

Marita Teng, MD Associate Professor of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Institute Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Dr. Marita Teng Interview with:
Marita Teng, MD
Associate Professor of Otolaryngology
Head and Neck Institute
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Editor’s note: January is Thyroid Awareness Month. In recognition, Dr. Teng discusses the thyroid gland’s important role in the production of  hormones that help the body regulate its metabolism.  Dr. Teng also discusses the recognition of thyroid nodules and cancer.

MedicalResearch: What does the thyroid gland do?  Why is it important for health?

Dr. Teng: The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone, which is carried through the circulation to the other organs in the body.  Thyroid hormone is responsible for the body’s metabolism, and therefore maintains functions such as keeping the body warm, and properly use the energy we derive from food.

MedicalResearch: What is are some signs or symptoms of an underactive or overactive thyroid?

Dr. Teng: Thyroid overactivity (hyperactivity) results in heat intolerance, weight loss, rapid heartbeat, nervousness, increased appetite, difficulty sleeping, skin thinning, and hair loss, among other symptoms.  Thyroid underactivity (hypothyroidism) causes fatigue, weight gain, cold sensitivity, slowed heart rate, depression, memory impairment, and weakness, among other symptoms.  It should be noted that these symptoms are all nonspecific and can certainly be caused by other medical conditions as well.

MedicalResearch: What is a goiter? Does iodine in salt cause or prevent a goiter?

Dr. Teng: A goiter is a benign enlargement of the thyroid gland.  Iodine deficiency is one cause of goiter worldwide, but goiters can occur due to many other reasons.  The most common reasons are growth of numerous large nodules, or immune conditions of the thyroid, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease.

MedicalResearch: We are reading more about thyroid cancer, especially in young women.   Is thyroid cancer becoming more common or more dangerous?  How it is detected?

Dr. Teng: Thyroid cancer is becoming more common, but medical professionals believe that this increase in incidence is most likely the result of increased detection.  Patients are often incidentally found to have thyroid nodules during imaging studies of the neck, such as CT scan or MRI of the spine, or carotid artery ultrasound. The most common forms of thyroid cancer, papillary and follicular, are typically slow-growing and highly treatable and curable, with surgery as a mainstay of treatment.  Thus, we should not be alarmed about the increased incidence of thyroid cancer.  Thyroid nodules, both benign and cancerous ones, are best detected by ultrasound, followed by needle biopsy, which is a well-tolerated office procedure.

MedicalResearch: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Dr. Teng: The most significant recent development in thyroid cancer detection and treatment is the ability to test nodules for genetic mutations.  The genetic profile of a particular nodule predicts its risk of malignancy much more accurately than was previously possible through examination of the cells’ appearance under a microscope.

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Marita Teng, MD (2016). Thyroid Gland’s Importance Recognized During Thyroid Awareness Month 

Last Updated on January 22, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD