Thyroid neck exam

Know your thyroid

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, just above your collarbone, that produces hormones. Thyroid disease affects millions of Americans, most of which are women.

"If your thyroid gland is not producing enough hormones (underactive), it can cause weight gain, tiredness, constipation and feeling cold all the time," said Kathleen Haynes, PharmD. "This is known as hypothyroidism, and is the most common thyroid problem." 

If your thyroid gland is producing too much hormones, it can cause weight loss, increased heart rate, diarrhea and feeling hot. This is known as hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid.

Treatment for each problem is typically medication taken by mouth, but surgery may also be necessary. Ideally, medicine will help get the hormone levels back to a normal range and symptoms of the thyroid disease will resolve.

"If you are currently taking any medication for your thyroid, make sure to take it regularly; at the same time of day," said Haynes. "There are some common drug interactions, so make sure you are taking your medication appropriately."

Thyroid hormone levels can be regularly checked by your doctor with a simple blood test and—if on medication, your dose can be easily adjusted. You are at higher risk for thyroid disease if you have relatives, such as your parents or siblings, that have already been diagnosed and if you are over the age of 35.

There is no way to prevent thyroid problems from occurring, but you can do a “neck check”. Look in the mirror while swallowing a drink of water and look for any bulges or enlargements to your thyroid. Repeat this many times if necessary and make sure you are not looking at your Adam’s apple, which is higher. Report anything out of the ordinary to your doctor.

If you have any further questions about your thyroid, contact your physician. If you need a primary care doctor, explore Community's doctors here.