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How To Live Without A Thyroid Gland

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It Regulates Practically Everything

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Weighing less than an ounce, the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland is located low in the front of the neck. It is below the pharynx (voice box), wrapping around the larynx (wind­pipe). The thyroid helps regulate metabo­lism by controlling various endo­crine system glands.

Think of the thyroid like a command center that makes efficient use of the energy we possess. An under­active thyroid gland (hypo­thyroidism) can manifest the following symptoms:

  • Constipation
  • Difficulty with learning
  • Dry, brittle hair and nails
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Forgetfulness
  • 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
Thyroid Awareness Month

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 horizontal 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 its importance, thyroidec­tomy is a last resort.

Thyroidectomy Reasons and Possible Complications

In 2014, 15,888 thyroidec­tomies were performed on Medicare patients in the United States. 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. In a multi-center retro­spective study of 1792 post-surgical patients, 48.3% developed post­operative hypopara­thyroidism at discharge. Of these, 14.5% cases were permanent. Many times, the complica­tion is asympto­matic.

When symptoms develop, 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

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

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Kevin Williams is a health advocate, artist, pro­gram­mer, and writer of hundreds of articles for multiple web­sites. He has 17 years experi­ence as a Neutrogena Research and Scientific Affairs graphics con­sul­tant.

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