It Regulates Practically Everything
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:
- Difficulty with learning
- Dry, brittle hair and nails
- Dry, itchy skin
- Heavy and/or irregular menstrual flow
- Increased frequency of miscarriages
- Increased sensitivity to medications
- Pervasive fatigue
- Puffy face
- Sore muscles
- Weight gain and fluid retention
If these are the symptoms of hypothyroidism, how do people function after surgical removal of their thyroid gland? My mother had her thyroid removed in the early 1960s. As a child, I was reminded by the characteristic 1-inch neck scar that she initially tried to conceal with jewelry but eventually faded. Hence, I have seen that 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).
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.
January is Thyroid Health Month.
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- Your Thyroid Gland is More Important Than You Might Think. utmedicalcenter.org
- Thyroidectomy: Why it's done. mayoclinic.com
- Photography by zilli licensed from iStock Photo.
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