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What is an Ectopic Thyroid?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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Ectopic thyroid describes a medical condition where some thyroid tissues or the entire gland has failed to form in the appropriate place. The thyroid gland, which is so important to things like energy, memory, brain development and mood regulation, is normally located right near the base of the throat. It gets there through a developmental process occurring in the fetus during the first few weeks of life. It first forms and then descends to its appropriate locale in the body.

Sometimes descent is not complete and some thyroid tissue develops in the neck, trachea or on the tongue. When attached to the tongue, there’s a good chance this form of ectopic thyroid represents the only thyroid tissue in the body, which is called lingual thyroid. At other times, there is a functioning thyroid gland but there is thyroid tissue elsewhere too. When this is the case, it may be important to locate and removed extra tissue so that a person doesn’t develop hyperthyroidism or presence of too much of the thyroid hormones.

The situation can be different if lingual thyroid is present. It is sometimes possible to remove and relocate the gland elsewhere, or if the gland is insufficient, it may be remain where it is to produce a small amount of thyroid hormones. Supplementation with additional thyroid hormones could be necessary to promote growth and normal intellectual development.

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Ectopic thyroid in the throat or at the tongue is usually diagnosed early, and this is especially the case when thyroid hormone levels are too high or too low. Many countries mandate thyroid hormone level testing for newborns because severe mental retardation can result especially if children have low thyroid hormones. Sometimes the body produces enough hormones and the placement of the ectopic thyroid is not obvious; it is often visually obvious if attached to the tongue, in contrast. In the former cases, the condition might not be diagnosed unless thyroid levels change in the future.

Should an ectopic thyroid be suspected, doctors will usually run scans to find the thyroid tissue and will be most interested in determining how well the gland functions in its present location. Removal to a new location could be considered, complete excision of the tissue might be recommended, or presence of the gland in an unusual position could simply be noted. Doctors might want people with this condition to undergo fairly regular blood tests of thyroid hormone levels to make sure that function of the gland remains unimpaired. An ectopic thyroid can just as easily acquire diseases, as do thyroid glands that are located in the normal position, and watching for these illnesses could be reason for blood tests too.

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