Goiter and Thyroid Nodules

A thyroid nodule is a growth (lump) in the thyroid gland.

Causes

Thyroid nodules are growths of cells in the thyroid gland. These growths can be:

Thyroid nodules are more common in women than in men. A person's chance of getting a thyroid nodule increases with age.

Tthyroid nodules usually are not due to thyroid cancer. A thyroid nodule is more likely to be cancer if you:

Causes of thyroid nodules are not always found, but can include:

Symptoms

Most thyroid nodules do not cause symptoms.

Large nodules can press against other structures in the neck, causing symptoms such as:

The term "goiter" refers to the abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland. It is important to know that the presence of a goiter does not necessarily mean that the thyroid gland is malfunctioning. A goiter can occur in a gland that is producing too much hormone (hyperthyroidism), too little hormone (hypothyroidism), or the correct amount of hormone (euthyroidism). A goiter indicates there is a condition present which is causing the thyroid to grow abnormally.

Nodules that produce thyroid hormones will likely cause symptoms of overactive thyroid gland, including:

Thyroid nodules are sometimes found in people who have Hashimoto's disease, which may cause symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland, such as:

Exams and tests

Very often, nodules produce no symptoms. physicians find thyroid nodules only during a routine physical exam or imaging tests that are done for another reason. A few people have thyroid nodules that are big enough that they notice the nodule on their own, causing them to have a physician examine their neck.

If the physician finds a nodule or you have symptoms of a nodule, the following tests may be done:

Treatment

Your physician may recommend surgery to remove all or part of your thyroid gland if the nodule is:

Patients with nodules that are making too much thyroid hormone may be treated with radioactive iodine. This treatment reduces the size and activity of the nodule. Pregnant women are not given this treatment.

Both surgery to remove thyroid gland tissue and radioactive iodine treatment can cause lifelong hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), which needs to be treated with thyroid hormone replacement.

For noncancerous nodules that do not cause symptoms and are not growing, the best treatment may be:

Another possible treatment is ethanol (alcohol) injection into the nodule to shrink it.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Noncancerous thyroid nodules are not life-threatening. Many do not require treatment. Follow-up exams are enough.

The outlook for thyroid cancer depends on the type of cancer. With most common kinds of thyroid cancer, the outlook is very good after treatment.


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Adapted from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

Goiter

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