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When do thyroid problems require surgery?

Laura Ann Sznyter, MD, a new endocrine surgeon at Glen Cove Hospital, discusses when a surgical procedure on the thyroid may be necessary.

The thyroid gland produces hormones that help regulate your metabolic rate, heart rate, muscle function, body temperature and more.

For many of us, the thyroid operates without incident. But a sign of a thyroid problem is a "lump or swelling in the neck that isn't painful," says Laura Ann Sznyter, MD, an endocrine surgeon at Glen Cove Hospital who specializes in the treatment of the thyroid and parathyroid glands. Fatigue and hair loss are other signs that something may be wrong.

If you're concerned about your thyroid, an endocrinologist is typically the first place to go for an assessment. Dr. Sznyter is then available for further evaluation and surgery when needed. The following are conditions that Dr. Sznyter treats.

Thyroid nodules, or growths that occur on the thyroid

These may require a biopsy and follow-up care. These growths are usually not cancerous - in fact, more than 95 percent are benign.

Goiter, or the abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland

It can cause swelling of the neck. If the goiter is big enough, it can also cause coughing, difficulty swallowing and shortness of breath. A goiter that does not respond to medication can be surgically removed to alleviate symptoms, says Dr. Sznyter.

Overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism

This means the thyroid produces too much hormone, leading to symptoms such as rapid heart rate, anxiety, shaking, sweating, hair loss, fatigue and unintended weight loss. Removing the thyroid with surgery may be an option for people whose hyperthyroidism isn't controlled with medication.

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer may cause a lump or swelling in the neck. Pain in the front of the neck, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing and trouble breathing may be other symptoms. While a cancer diagnosis is scary, thyroid cancer "is treatable and curable in 98 percent of patients," Dr. Sznyter said. Surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid is the standard of care.

"The good news is that with any of these conditions, patients are going to do very well with surgery. There’s minimal risk and the recovery is pretty uneventful with little discomfort."
— Laura Ann Sznyter, MD
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