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The Thyroid Gland and Potential Problems

The Thyroid Gland and Potential Problems

January is Thyroid Awareness Month.

Occasionally people may think they may have issues with their thyroid gland because of weight gain, constant fatigue, sleeplessness, or even inability to gain weight.

Most often the thyroid isn’t the culprit; other health-related issues may be causing these problems and all such symptoms should be checked by a physician. But, Dr. Prasad V. Katta, endocrinologist with Washington Township Medical Foundation and primary care specialist, says thyroid-related illnesses are not rare and the number of patients he sees with thyroid problems has increased over the years.

Part of the reason for the increase, Dr. Katta suggests, may be increased attention to health issues. As more individuals have access to health insurance, they are not as hesitant to see a doctor with complaints of fatigue or other generalized symptoms.
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck between the collarbones. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the body's metabolic rate as well as heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development, mood and bone maintenance.

When thyroid hormone production drops, your body's processes slow down and change. When thyroid hormone production increases dramatically, it can accelerate your body's metabolism, causing unintentional weight loss and a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

Iodine is the fuel that feeds the thyroid. In the United States, lack of iodine in the diet generally is not a problem, Dr. Katta says. However, other factors may cause thyroid issues including a family history of thyroid disease, some medications that may interfere with the thyroid’s functioning, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and previous radiation treatment to the neck area.

Two types of thyroid disease are:

Hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid, is where the thyroid produces too much hormone, speeding up your bodily functions to the point you develop serious heart problems or other serious illnesses.

Hypothyroidism is where the thyroid is underactive and does not produce enough hormone, slowing down the body’s functions — sometimes to the point of total inaction. Hypothyroidism is more common than hyperthyroidism, Dr. Katta says, and women are three times more likely than men to suffer from hypothyroidism.

Other thyroid diseases include an enlargement of the thyroid, called a “goiter” and nodules on the thyroid which can be caused by various factors. These nodules can be cancerous in some cases. However, Dr. Katta says thyroid cancer is not particularly common. “I see it in less than 2 percent of the thyroid-related patients I treat.”

Two autoimmune diseases also can cause thyroid disease: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where the body’s antibodies attack the thyroid mistaking it for a foreign invader; and Graves’ disease, where the immune system also attacks the thyroid causing it to overproduce the thyroid hormone which can result in extreme hyperthyroidism.

Thyroid disease is generally treated with medications that regulate the production of the thyroid hormone or sometimes with radioactive iodine. Surgery is indicated when the disease does not respond to medication or the radioactive iodine treatment, when the nodules are determined to be cancerous, or when the nodules or goiter interfere with swallowing or breathing properly.

Thyroid issues can be identified with blood tests and a physical examination, Dr. Katta notes, and he encourages those who are concerned about thyroid symptoms to see their doctor.

For more information about thyroid conditions, visit multiple reference sites including To learn more about Dr. Katta and other WTMF physicians, visit