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Thyroid FAQs

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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Q:Women are more likely than men to have a thyroid imbalance. True or False?

A:True. Thyroid disorders are more common in women. For example, women are about 50 times more likely than men to suffer from an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Some scientists theorize that female hormones, such as estrogen, may be a factor in triggering autoimmune conditions, including problems with the thyroid. But no one knows for sure why women are more susceptible.

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Q:Where is the thyroid gland located?

A:In the neck. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck just below the Adam's apple.

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Q:The thyroid produces hormones that regulate what bodily function?

A:Metabolism. The thyroid gland works like a tiny factory that uses iodine (mostly from foods such as seafood and salt) to produce thyroid hormones. These hormones help to regulate the body's metabolism and affects processes such as growth and other important functions of the body.

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Q:Weight loss, rapid heart rate, and heat sensitivity are likely symptoms of what?

A:Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Hyperthyroidism is the medical term for the condition in which the thyroid gland is too active. This means that the thyroid makes more thyroid hormones than the body needs. Too much thyroid hormone can cause weight loss, increased heart rate, and sensitivity to heat.

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Q:An abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland is called a goiter. True or False?

A:True. A goiter is not cancerous. It is simply a thyroid gland that is bigger than usual. A goiter can be associated with levels of thyroid hormone that are normal (euthyroid), too high (hyperthyroid) or too low (hypothyroid).

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Q:Very high body temperature, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath describe?

A:Thyroid storm. In patients with hyperthyroidism, worsening symptoms can result in a serious condition called thyroid storm. A major sign of thyroid storm is a marked elevation of body temperature, which may be as high as 105-106 F (40.5-41.1 C). Other symptoms can include increased heart rate, chest pain, and heart failure. Thyroid storm is unusual, but when it occurs, it is a life-threatening emergency.

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Q:Which is more common? Hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism?

A:Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Hyperthyroidism is far more common than hypothyroidism. An unexplained change in weight is one of the most common signs of a thyroid disorder. Weight gain may signal low levels of thyroid hormones, a condition called hypothyroidism. In contrast, if the thyroid produces more thyroid hormones than the body needs, you may lose weight unexpectedly. This is known as hyperthyroidism.

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Q:Thyroid disorders are sometimes mistaken for which disease or condition?

A:Menopause. Because thyroid disorders can cause changes in your menstrual cycle and mood, the symptoms are sometimes mistaken for menopause. If a thyroid problem is suspected, a simple blood test can determine whether the true culprit is menopause or a thyroid disorder – or a combination of the two.

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Q:Once over the age of 35, thyroid function screening should take place and regular intervals of what?

A:5 years. Everyone should be screened for thyroid dysfunction every 5 years, beginning at age 35, according to the American Thyroid Association. People with symptoms or risk factors may need tests more often.

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Q:How does radioactive iodine treatment for hyperthyroidism leave the body?

A:Urine. Radioactive iodine leaves the body through urine. Drinking plenty of fluids during this time will rid the body of radioactivity.

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Q:In most people, one radioactive iodine treatment will cure hyperthyroidism. True or False?

A:True. For most people, one dose of radioactive iodine treatment will cure hyperthyroidism. Usually, thyroid hormone levels return to normal in 8 to 12 weeks. In rare cases, the person needs a second or third dose of radioactive iodine.

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Q:The study of thyroid diseases falls under which branch of medicine?

A:Endocrinology. The study of thyroid diseases falls under the branch of medicine known as endocrinology. Endocrinology involves the study of hormones, their receptors, the intracellular signaling pathways they invoke, and the diseases and conditions associated with them. Endocrinologists are physicians and scientists who study and care for patients with endocrine gland and hormone problems.

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