The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck. The gland secretes several important hormones that play a role in metabolism and other critical functions. Thyroid dysfunction can be divided into two main types: hypothyroidism (also called underactive thyroid), which occurs when the thyroid does not produce enough hormones, and hyperthyroidism (also called overactive thyroid) when the thyroid produces too many hormones.
Several factors can contribute to thyroid disease, but the most common causes include autoimmune disorders that cause the immune system to attack healthy thyroid tissue, a presence of tumors, and other conditions that cause the thyroid to become overactive.
Diagnosing thyroid disease begins with a simple blood test to measure levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. Imaging studies may also be used, and in some cases, a thyroid biopsy procedure may be performed to obtain small samples of tissue for further evaluation.
Also called a thyroidectomy, surgery is performed to remove all or a portion of the thyroid gland. During thyroidectomy, a small incision will be made in the neck near or around the gland to enable the doctor to access it and remove it. Surgery is performed under general anesthesia. Some surgeries can be performed endoscopically, using small incisions and a special instrument called an endoscope that’s equipped with a tiny camera. The camera sends images from inside the neck to a monitor so the doctor can view the surgical site without the need for a larger incision. Endoscopic thyroidectomy uses a minimally-invasive approach that can result in faster healing and fewer potential risks. Not every patient is a candidate for the endoscopic approach, and a thorough evaluation prior to surgery will determine which method is more appropriate. Most patients are discharged the day following their surgery and resume normal activities in about 10 days. Following thyroidectomy (and especially when the entire thyroid gland is removed), patients will need to take medication to replace the hormones normally produced by the gland.