What the neck? Viewers of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion told actress Denise Richards that something seemed wrong with her neck when she appeared on the television show. While having other people tell you that something’s wrong with your body may not always be a good thing, this time it was. And Richards thanked viewers for doing so.
As the following Instagram post from Richards indicated, Richards hadn’t noticed the lump in the front of her neck until viewers of her reality show appearance had messaged her about it:
You could say that Richards took her lump from social media and found out that her thyroid was actually enlarged. This Good Morning America segment shows the episode in which viewers noticed Richards’ neck:
The segment pointed out that Richards is not the first person on television to benefit from such viewer attention. For example, an Inside Edition viewer helped Deborah Norville find a mass in the “neck of time.” As Gina Vivinetto detailed for Today, this mass turned out to be a cancerous thyroid nodule, which surgeons subsequently removed.
Normally, your thyroid should be like a stunt double on Real Housewives: you shouldn’t be able to see it. Unless you carry around an ultrasound or MRI machine, you can’t peek inside the front part of your neck, which is where the thyroid gland sits, right above your collar bone and in front of your windpipe. If you were to open your neck (please don’t), you would see that the gland looks a bit like a butterfly, with two wing-like lobes connected by a piece of tissue called the isthmus.
Your thyroid is quite important. It secretes two hormones, thyroxine (T-4) and triiodothyronine (T-3), that affect your brain development, metabolism, growth, development, and body temperature. Without enough thyroid hormone, you become hypothyroid, and many of your body functions become sluggish. Dangerously low thyroid hormone levels is a condition called myxedema, where “myx” is pronounced “mix,” as in K-pop dance mix. This may result in your lapsing into a coma and eventually dying. This would not be good since you could no longer watch reality television shows.
On the other hand, if your thyroid secretes too much thyroid hormone, hyperthyroidism develops. This revs up your body and can led to all sorts of issues such as weight loss (but not in a good way) and irregular heart rhythms.
If you don’t want to say “thyroid enlargement” because it has too many syllables, you can use the term “goiter,” which rhymes with the word “loiter.” The most common cause of goiter in the U.S. is not consuming enough iodine. Your thyroid needs iodine to manufacturer thyroid hormones. Without enough iodine, your thyroid can be a bit like a guy without confidence. It tries to get bigger to compensate. Thus, adding more iodine to your diet can help fix this issue.
Autoimmune diseases such as Grave’s Disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can also result in goiter. In autoimmune disease, your immune system gets confused and can’t tell friend from foe, sort of like some people on reality television shows. In both Grave’s and Hashimoto’s, your immune system then attacks your thyroid.
In general, anything that overstimulates your thyroid or causes it to be inflamed can lead to goiter. Thyroiditis is a term for thyroid inflammation. In general, anything with an “-itis” at the end of it means that thing is inflamed. Thus, in theory, boy-band-itis would be an inflammation of a boy band.
The American Thyroid Association lists on its website different possible causes of thyroiditis such as viruses and certain medications. Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone that is secreted by the placenta during pregnancy, can also cause thyroiditis. This doesn’t tend to occur in men.
Your thyroid can also develop benign growth like nodules. These nodules may or may not secrete thyroid hormone.
The biggest concern when your thyroid is enlarged is cancer. That’s why you should see your doctor whenever you suspect that your thyroid may be enlarged or feel a nodule. Your doctor may want to image your thyroid or take a sample of the tissue.
In fact, don’t wait until you appear on Real Housewives to get your neck and thyroid checked. You should regularly check your neck for lumps or any signs of enlargement that are not related to lifting barbells with your head. To do a self-check, first, stand in front of a well-lit mirror and look at your neck. Admire how it connects your head with the rest of your body. If this is not the case, see your doctor immediately.
If your head is connected to your body, then, gently tilt your head back and point your chin up as if you were about to throw some shade. This extends your neck so that you can better see any possible masses or other abnormalities.
Next, swallow while watching your neck. It may help to have a glass of water handy to help with swallowing. Do not use vodka. While swallowing, check for any moving masses in your neck. Masses aren’t always apparent until they move.
Finally, feel your neck for any lumps or abnormal structures. If you find anything abnormal, contact your doctor, a real medical doctor and not someone who tells your that all vaccines are bad and you should use crystals and supplements instead.
This video from the Cleveland Clinic shows how to do this self-check:
However, reminiscent of that Weeknd song “Can’t Feel My Face,” you may not be able to feel a thyroid mass even if it is present. Therefore, do not rely solely on thyroid self-checks. Make sure that your doctor regularly checks your neck and thyroid.
Hopefully Richards got examined by a doctor, a real doctor. In her Instagram post, she claimed that a gluten-free diet has helped reduce the size of her thyroid. There is currently no clear scientific evidence that going gluten-free will help any thyroid condition. If Richards indeed went gluten-free, that could have also meant other accompanying changes in her diet and lifestyle. For example, maybe she also happens to be eating more iodine-rich foods such as fish, fruits, and vegetables that are listed on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) website. Perhaps she is paying more attention to her health in general, which could have helped what was happening to her thyroid.
Nevertheless, Richards’ case is a reminder that your should stick your neck out, every now and then. Check it for abnormalities. Get someone else to check it as well. You may not be a regular on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but you can and should regularly see a real medical doctor.