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The Thyroid Gland

January 06, 2022
Dr. Mark Harris

Our thyroid gland, that tiny organ in the front of our neck just below our Adam’s apple, has a powerful role in how our body functions.

“The thyroid gland produces hormones that help with essential metabolic function,” says Dr. J. Mark Harris, FACS, an MUSC Health Florence surgeon. “These hormones regulate our weight, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.”

A malfunctioning thyroid, called thyroid disease, leads to a variety of symptoms, including weight gain or weight loss, difficulty sleeping, anxiety and blurry vision.

Harris says thyroid disease is very common, with an estimated 20 million people in the United States having some type of thyroid disorder. Women are about five to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with a thyroid condition than men.

Thyroid disease can be benign or malignant, Harris says. Benign thyroid disease includes hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, as well as goiter disease.
Both types can be caused by other diseases that attack the thyroid gland.

“Hyperthyroidism occurs when the body overproduces thyroid hormones, causing the body to burn energy excessively,” Harris says. “Some of the symptoms include weight loss, rapid heartbeat, insomnia and blurred vision. “Hypothyroidism occurs when the body produces too little of the hormone, leading to weight gain and fatigue.”

Hypothyroidism is treated with medications. Hyperthyroidism can be treated with medications, radioactive iodine or surgery, Harris says.

Goiter occurs when the thyroid grows irregularly or as a result of nodules that develop on the thyroid gland.

Although thyroid disease is complex, it is generally managed by a patient’s endocrinologist and primary care physician with referral to a surgeon when the condition becomes more severe or cancerous, Harris says.

When a patient with hyperthyroidism does not respond to medications or radioactive iodine, Harris recommends a thyroidectomy, a surgical procedure to remove a portion of the gland or the entire thyroid gland.

Other common indications for thyroidectomy are an enlarged goiter, which can be compressive and cause problems breathing or swallowing, swelling in the neck, changes in voice and cosmetic issues, the presence of multiple or suspicious nodules after a needle biopsy with ultrasound, and thyroid cancer.

The surgery, which takes about 90 minutes and is performed with general anesthesia, involves a small incision across the lower neck. Patients usually stay in the hospital one night and can resume their normal activities in one to two weeks, Harris says.

Patients who have their entire thyroid removed must take medication daily to replace the hormone originally produced by the thyroid, but can expect to live a normal life, Harris says.

“This medication is easily managed by a primary care physician,” Harris says. “We work closely with our patients’ physicians to make sure they’re appropriately taken care of. For patients who need additional care and follow-up, we have the ability to send them to our colleagues at MUSC Health in Charleston.”

Dr. Harris is associated with Floyd Medical Group in Florence. He practices general surgery and has extensive experience performing surgery for thyroid disease. He is accepting new patients and can be reached at 843-669-1220.