(CNN) -January is Thyroid Awareness Month.
Did you know that roughly half of adults over 40 have thyroid nodules? These lumps in the thyroid gland are common and usually not cause for alarm, but if you notice one, it's a good idea to have it checked out.
Dr. Mary Vouyiouklis Kellis treats thyroid disorders at Cleveland Clinic. She says there's a simple way to check your neck for nodules.
"Tip your head back and look in the mirror. Take a glass of water, swallow and when you swallow, typically, the thyroid will move up and down so you're going to look again from the Adam's apple to the collar bone, and if you see anything moving up or down, a lump, a bump, that would be something you'd want to see your doctor about," Dr. Kellis said.
Large nodules may make it difficult to swallow or breathe and may impact your voice; these can be removed surgically. Nodules can also secrete extra thyroid hormones and cause irregular heartbeat, insomnia, weight loss, nervousness and muscle weakness. Such nodules can be removed surgically or treated with radioactive iodine.
Only about five percent of nodules are cancerous, and need surgery to remove the entire thyroid gland and possibly the surrounding lymph nodes. The bottom line is, if you see or feel something protruding from your neck, it's worth having it examined by your doctor.
"If they feel anything, often they can check a thyroid ultrasound and if a nodule is found then obviously the next step would be to see an endocrinologist who would further evaluate why that's there. If there's any associated changes in blood function of the thyroid, etcetera," Dr. Kellis said.
If you have a thyroid nodule, your doctor will likely monitor it with periodic blood tests and may also order thyroid ultrasounds to keep an eye on it.