Published on July 31, 2022

A provider examining a woman's thyroid.

Talk to your doctor about issues you experience with your neck or throat

Your thyroid may be a tiny gland, but it can have a big impact on your health.

The thyroid gland is located on the front of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. It produces hormones that regulate countless bodily functions, including blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and weight. Most people don’t notice their thyroid unless they experience hormonal dysfunction, swelling or pain.

It’s always important to talk to your primary care provider when you experience any changes in your health.

Visit your provider for signs of thyroid issues, including:

  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing.
  • Prolonged fatigue.
  • Weight changes.
  • Menstrual irregularities.
  • Persistent pain in your neck and throat.
  • A lump or swelling in your neck.
  • Changes in your voice, including increasing hoarseness.

A visit to your provider will allow you to learn what is causing your symptoms and receive any needed treatment.

Your visit will include a conversation about your symptoms, a physical exam and a review of your medical history and your family’s medical history. Your provider may recommend blood tests and, in some cases, ultrasound imaging of the neck.

Your tests may result in a diagnosis of an illness not related to the thyroid such as a virus or an issue related to post-nasal drip or acid reflux. Or, your tests could indicate the presence of thyroid disease.

Thyroid disease occurs when the hormones produced by your thyroid are out of balance. In some cases, your provider may prescribe a medication to help balance your hormone levels. Referral may also be made to an endocrinologist, a medical specialist who has advanced training in evaluating, diagnosing and treating conditions related to the endocrine system, including the thyroid.

Your endocrinologist will work closely with you to optimize your health. A detailed exam will be performed and your symptoms and medical history will be discussed with you.

An ultrasound can help your endocrinologist determine whether you have a nodule on your thyroid and evaluate the nodule for size, margins, blood and calcium deposits.

Your endocrinologist may order a biopsy of the nodule. A biopsy is an in-office procedure performed under the guidance of ultrasound imaging. A very thin needle is inserted into the nodule and sample cells are removed for testing.

Your endocrinologist may also recommend molecular testing for markers in your tissue samples, to determine the likelihood that a thyroid nodule is benign or cancerous.

“Depending on your personalized evaluation, your endocrinologist may recommend close monitoring of the nodule, or perhaps treatment,” said Nicolas Mungo, MD, is an endocrinologist at ProHealth Care. “Nodules on the thyroid are often benign and can be closely watched for changes.”

Monitoring also includes periodic blood tests, imaging and additional fine-needle biopsies if needed.

In some cases, genetic testing is recommended to screen for thyroid cancer.

Rates of thyroid cancer have been increasing, while deaths related to the disease have not proportionally increased. This may be the result of early detection. Cancerous nodules can be treated most successfully when they are very small.

If you are diagnosed with thyroid cancer, your endocrinologist will work closely with your primary care provider, surgeon and, in cases of more aggressive forms of cancer, an oncologist, to develop a personalized care plan.

Surgery is typically recommended for cancerous nodules and for larger non-cancerous nodules. A thyroidectomy is surgery performed to remove either the entire thyroid gland or part of the gland. 

Surgery may be followed with radioactive iodine therapy taken in pill form. Side effects from surgery and iodine therapy are typically minimal.

Thyroid cancer is often successfully treated or so slow growing that it may not impact longevity. If you feel a lump or have signs that your thyroid may not be functioning as well as it should, start by scheduling a visit with your primary care provider.