The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in the neck that is responsible for producing hormones. It regulates the body’s metabolism, but is prone to disorders involving abnormal amounts of hormone production.

When the thyroid produces too much hormone, a condition called hyperthyroidism occurs. Metabolism speeds up and causes a rapid or irregular heartbeat, nervousness, irritability, sweating, sensitivity to heat and weight loss. This is typically treated with beta-blockers, iodide, methimiaole or radioactive iodine therapy.

Conversely, when too little hormone is produced, the condition is called hypothyroidism and is marked by a slowed-down metabolism that causes fatigue, constipation, muscle aches and pains, facial puffiness, dry skin, sensitivity to cold and weight gain. Treatment with synthetic hormone replacement therapy is the usual course of action.

Thyroid nodules are lumps in the thyroid gland that may be solid or filled with fluid. They are usually noncancerous and rarely cause problems. In some cases, they may enlarge to the point of causing breathing and swallowing difficulties or stimulating overproduction of thyroid hormone.

Though relatively rare, thyroid cancer occurs when abnormal cells multiply in the thyroid gland. Fortunately, patients with thyroid cancer frequently do well because it is usually detected early and responds well to treatment. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you experience any symptoms of the disease.