Millions of Americans have a form of thyroid disease and don’t know. The thyroid— a butterfly-shaped gland located in the lower part of the neck—is crucial to how the body operates, producing hormones that regulate metabolism, body temperature and other organ functions.
January is Thyroid Awareness Month. An estimated 20 million people in the United States have some form of thyroid disease—and up to 60 percent of those are unaware of their condition, according to the American Thyroid Association. Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems, and most thyroid diseases will persist throughout a person’s life.
Noah Parker, MD, associate professor of clinical otolaryngology—head and neck surgery, is an endocrine surgeon and co-director of the IU Health Thyroid and Parathyroid Program, a newly launched multidisciplinary group focused on the care of patients with thyroid and parathyroid disorders. In addition to Parker, the initiative is led by Hadley Ritter, MD, assistant professor of clinical surgery, and Michael Morkos, MD, MS, assistant professor of clinical medicine.
The thyroid and parathyroid program will provide an improved experience for patients and referring physicians by expediting timelines for evaluation, diagnosis and treatment, as well as ensure patients are treated by high-volume providers, Parker said. The goals are to create a center of excellence in clinical care, outcomes research and education for these disorders.
We spoke with Parker about what you should know about the thyroid gland and its diseases.
What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland, a small butterfly-shaped gland that is located in the center of the lower part of the neck, is an endocrine gland, meaning it secretes a hormone. Thyroid hormones are secreted into the blood and then through the entire body. Thyroid hormones affect body heat, energy and overall function of the organs in the body.
What are some common thyroid disorders?
Disorders of the thyroid gland include thyroid nodules, Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and thyroid cysts.
What is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not secrete enough thyroid hormone. This causes a number of problems, including low energy, weight gain, skin and hair changes. It is diagnosed with lab testing and is often appropriately treated with medication.
What is hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland secretes too much thyroid hormone. This causes a number of different problems, including anxiousness, trouble sleeping, weight loss, and skin and hair changes. It is also diagnosed with lab testing and often requires more extensive testing to diagnose the underlying reason for the problem. There are a variety of treatments, some medical and some surgical, to treat hyperthyroidism.
What is thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer is caused by cells in the thyroid gland that grow and spread without control. Some thyroid cancers grow and spread very slowly, but others can do so rapidly. Early detection of thyroid cancer is essential to controlling and even curing the disease.
What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer commonly presents to patients or doctors as a lump in the thyroid gland, but it can also present as a lump elsewhere in the neck. Typically, thyroid cancer does not cause any symptoms. Sometimes, thyroid cancer is detected because of imaging studies (such as a CT scan of the neck) performed for other problems. While a lump in the thyroid—a thyroid nodule—is often benign (not cancer), any lump in the neck or thyroid should be carefully examined by a specialist to determine if further imaging and/or biopsy is necessary.
What services are available for care for thyroid disorders at IU Health?
IU Health doctors provide complete treatment options for thyroid disorders, including medical treatment by endocrinologists and primary care doctors, surgery by thyroid surgeons, and other treatments depending on the problem, provided by a number of other specialists in radiology, nuclear medicine and oncology. The IU Health Thyroid and Parathyroid Program is the only centralized program for these disorders in Indiana and seeks to coordinate, expedite and optimize care and patient outcomes with thyroid and parathyroid disorders.
What research is being performed at IU School of Medicine for thyroid disorders?
A number of research projects are underway examining a variety of thyroid disorders, treatment effects and surgical outcomes.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Ben Middelkamp is a communications coordinator for Indiana University School of Medicine, where he supports Stark Neurosciences Research Institute and the Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. Before joining the Office of Strategic Communications in December 2019, Ben spent nearly six years as a newspaper reporter in two Indiana cities. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in Convergent Journalism from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2014, Ben enjoys translating his background in journalism to the communications and marketing needs of the school and its physicians and researchers.