Disorders of the Thyroid/Parathyroid Glands

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The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland that is situated in the front of your neck, in front of your trachea (windpipe). It is responsible for the production of thyroid hormone, which controls your body’s metabolism.

The gland can undergo a variety of disease processes that might result in it producing too much or too little hormone. In the latter situation (hypothyroidism), your physician is likely to prescribe supplemental hormone replacement. In the situation where too much hormone is produced (hyperthyroidism), medications to control this may be prescribed and/or surgery to remove part or all of the gland may be suggested.

Nodules or lumps can develop in the thyroid gland. They can be solitary or multiple. The vast majority of thyroid nodules are benign (non-cancerous). The nodules are usually assessed with an ultrasound and occasionally with a diagnostic needle biopsy to determine its nature. If your physician suspects or confirms that a nodule is malignant (cancerous), surgery to remove part or all of your thyroid gland will likely be suggested.

The parathyroid glands are 4 in number, are 4-5 mm in size and are located in very close proximity to each of the 4 corners of the thyroid gland. These glands produce a hormone called parathyroid hormone, which controls calcium metabolism. Its production increases calcium levels in the blood.

It can be overproduced in a condition called hyperparathyroidism, which most commonly is due to an adenoma in one of the 4 glands. An adenoma is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor. It is treated by surgical removal if the calcium levels in the blood become too high. On rare occasions all 4 glands overproduce the hormone, in which case 3 ½ glands are surgically removed. Cancer of the parathyroid glands is an extremely rare occurrence.

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