Your Thyroid is Expendable

Life after thyroidectomy.

By Kevin RR Williams

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HEALTH Weighing less than an ounce, the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland is located low in the front of the neck, below the pharynx (voicebox), wrapping around the larynx (windpipe). The thyroid helps regulate metabolism by controlling various endocrine system glands. Think of it like a command center that makes efficient use of the energy we possess. An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) can manifest the following symptoms:

  • Constipation
  • Sore muscles
  • Weight gain and fluid retention
  • Heavy and/or irregular menstrual flow
  • Increased frequency of miscarriages
  • Increased sensitivity to many medications
  • Pervasive fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty with learning
  • Dry, brittle hair and nails
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Puffy face

If these are the symptoms of hypothyroidism, how do people function after surgical removal of their thyroid gland? My mother, who died in 2005 of unrelated causes, had her thyroid removed in the early 1960s. So as long as I can remember she had the characteristic 1-inch neck scar that she initially tried to conceal with jewelry. Hence, I know life without the gland is possible. Even so, considering it's importance, thyroidectomy is a last resort.

Thyroidectomy Reasons and Possible Complications

There are three primary reasons for surgically removing the thyroid gland. They are: thyroid cancer, noncancerous thyroid enlargement (goiter), and overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).

Blog: I’m Fat Because of Hypothyroidism

The most common complication after total or near-total thyroidectomy is hypocalcemia secondary to hypoparathyroidism, which occurs in about a third of cases. Many times, this complication is asymptomatic. When symptoms develop, however, they can range from mild paresthesias to painful tetany and even life-threatening complications, such as laryngeal spasm or arrhythmia.

How to Function Without a Thyroid

In the sense that people can live without them, the thyroid gland is "expendable." How is life following a thyroidectomy possible? By making adjustments to a hormone-replacement prescription, an endocrinologist can regulate the patient's metabolism. Regular exercise and vitamin supplements are also advised.

Blog: Easy to Swallow Thyroid Nutrition

January is Thyroid Health Month. A comprehensive human anatomy poster about the thyroid gland is available in our online store. Do your part to stay A Bit More Healthy.

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References
  1. Your Thyroid Gland is More Important Than You Might Think. utmedicalcenter.org
  2. Thyroidectomy: Why it's done. mayoclinic.com
  3. Photography by zilli licensed from iStock Photo.