The Butterfly (Gland) Effect

Stay balanced during National Thyroid Awareness Month

Did you know: One tiny gland at the base of your neck is responsible for multiple functions within your body, including metabolism, temperature regulation, cognitive function, digestion and plenty more. Despite its small size, the thyroid has significant influence on the entire body. Thyroid dysfunction, however, can lead to many serious health conditions.

January is National Thyroid Awareness Month, and the doctors and nurses at The Portland Clinic want to educate our neighbors in the Rose City on the importance of caring for your thyroid and recognizing when there may be a problem. While men and women can both receive a diagnosis of thyroid disease, it is much more common in women — one in eight women will develop thyroid problems during their lifetime.

What is the thyroid?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck. Our thyroids release hormones to control metabolism and regulate other vital bodily functions, including breathing, our nervous system, heart rate, muscle strength and body temperatures. Part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland uses iodine from the foods you eat to make two main hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). When there is an imbalance, or dysfunction of T3 and T4 distribution in your body, the thyroid, and all the processes for which it holds responsibility, will suffer. Conditions affecting the delivery of thyroid hormone can be placed into two categories: hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.


Hyperthyroidism is the result of an overactive thyroid, which produces too much of the hormones. When the gland is overactive the body’s processes speed up and you may experience differences in mood and temperament, including nervousness, anxiety and mood swings. Other internal symptoms include rapid heartbeat, hand tremors, excessive sweating, weight loss and sleep problems.

There are several medical issues that may result in hyperthyroidism, including goiters and inflammation, but the most common cause is Graves’ disease. With this disorder, the body makes an antibody called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) that causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone. Graves’ disease can be genetic and is seven to eight times more common in women than in men.


Hypothyroidism is diagnosed when the body is unable to produce enough T3 or T4 hormones. Thyroid hormone deficiency leads to issues associated with a slow metabolism such as weight gain, fatigue and slow heart rate. Dry skin and increased sensitivity to cold are also common.

Hypothyroidism is often related to Hashimoto’s Disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. This disease occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and slowly destroys the thyroid gland and its ability to produce hormones. Hashimoto’s disease affects nearly 14 million people in the United States, most commonly middle-aged women.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer occurs in approximately 1.2 percent of all men and women, with more than 56,000 new cases each year in the U.S. Thyroid cancer is most common after age 30 and occurs more frequently in women than men; a 3:1 ratio.

There are four types of thyroid cancer: papillary, which is diagnosed in 85 percent of patients, follicular at 10 percent, medullary for 3 percent, and anaplastic, affecting approximately 1 percent of thyroid cancer patients.

The good news is that most thyroid cancers are curable, with a success rate of more than 98 percent in both papillary and follicular diagnoses when treated appropriately. Unfortunately, thyroid cancer frequently presents itself with little to no symptoms, so it’s extremely important to keep up with regular physical exams, where your physician can check for lumps or other signs of the disease.


Thyroid disorders are fairly easy to diagnose, using a physical exam and blood work. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the symptoms below, call and make an appointment with your primary care physician:

  • Nervousness, unusual mood swings
  • Heat or cold intolerance
  • Menstrual changes
  • Racing heart beat
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Dry skin

Treatment for thyroid diseases vary depending on the disorder, but may involve medication, radioactive iodine or, in serious cases, surgery. The doctors and nurses at The Portland Clinic have the experience and determination to help Portlanders prevent, treat and become more informed about the disease and are happy to discuss any questions you may have during an appointment. If you would like to schedule a thyroid screening or physical exam, please contact your neighborhood clinic at 503-223-3113 or visit