Goiter can happen to anyone, and for early prevention and treatment, you should check for any of its signs and symptoms.
RELATED: The 6 Most Common Thyroid Disorders
In this article:
- What Is Goiter?
- What Are the Symptoms of Goiter?
- What Are the Causes of Goiter?
- Who Is at Risk to Have Goiter?
- Where Is Goiter Most Common?
- Why Is Goiter More Common Among Females Than Males?
- How Is Goiter Diagnosed?
- Are There Any Complications for Goiter?
- What Are the Treatment Options for Goiter?
- When Should a Goiter Be Removed?
- What Are the Natural Remedies for Goiter?
- Do Goiters Go Away on Their Own?
- Do Goiters Turn into Cancer?
All You Need to Know About Goiter and Enlarged Thyroids
What Is Goiter?
Goiter is one of the most common thyroid diseases, and may sometimes occur alongside other thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Medical experts primarily characterize this condition with an enlarged thyroid, which may affect breathing, swallowing, and coughing reflex if left unmanaged.
There are several types of this thyroid disease:
- Retrosternal – This is when thyroid goiter grows behind your breastbone, which can constrict your esophagus, neck veins, and windpipe. It can sometimes require thyroid surgery.
- Nodular – This is the most common. A lump grows on the thyroid. If multiple lumps develop, this is called toxic multinodular goiter.
- Diffuse Smooth – This condition happens when the whole thyroid gland inflames.
What Are the Symptoms of Goiter?
Apart from enlargement in the neck area, goiter may also manifest the following:
- Neck swelling that is tender when touched (Can be seen at the base of the neck or through lumps on the side of the neck.)
- Voice hoarseness
- Tightness in the throat
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Pressure on the esophagus area
- Shortness of breath
What Are the Causes of Goiter?
From common conditions to major diseases, the following are the causes of goiter:
- Lack of iodine – Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of this condition. The thyroid enlarges itself to get more iodine as soon as it detects the deficiency.
- Hashimoto’s Disease – Also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, this is an autoimmune disorder which attacks the thyroid the way it would a virus. The swelling happens as compensation from the overstimulation of the thyroid gland which results from the underproduction of hormones.
- Graves’ Disease – This is a type of hyperthyroidism—a condition which causes the thyroid to produce more hormones than needed by the body. The overstimulation causes thyroid enlargement.
- Pregnancy – The human chorionic gonadotropin or HCG hormone, which is produced by the placenta during pregnancy, may cause slight thyroid swelling.
- Thyroid nodules – Nodule growth in the thyroid may cause a change in its size.
- Thyroiditis – This is inflammation caused by a viral infection or a woman’s postpartum period. It brings about pain in the neck area and abnormal thyroxine production.
- Thyroid cancer – Tumor growth or the multiplication of cancer cells in the thyroid may cause a change in the gland’s size and shape.
Who Is at Risk to Have Goiter?
Goiter is more prevalent among women who are pregnant or reaching their forties, as well as those with relatives who have a medical history of the condition.
Smokers are also prone to this.
Goiter may appear at any time in life, and the other common risk factors are also worth mentioning:
- Exposure to Radiation
People who undergo radiation therapy in the neck or chest or take immunosuppressing medications are prone to developing this health issue, too.
- Family History
This is a common risk factor for most types of diseases. If a family member has or had a history of this condition, your chances of getting goiter are higher.
Aging also negatively affects the thyroid gland, and the condition is common to people 40 years and older. The process of aging is natural, and it can weaken the thyroid function over time, especially if you don’t have enough iodine supply in your body.
Where Is Goiter Most Common?
Goiter symptoms have no known ties with the areas where its patients reside. But, countries with no salt legislation or those who rarely use iodized salt are more prone to iodine deficiency.
The condition may also be more common in tropical countries that grow food rich in cyanide such as cassava and almonds, as an enlarged thyroid may also be caused by cyanide poisoning.
Why Is Goiter More Common Among Females Than Males?
Given that hormonal changes occur more often among females, the possibility of over- or underproduction of thyroid hormones is also common among them. This is what causes pregnant women to be more prone to iodine deficiency.
How Is Goiter Diagnosed?
Depending on the symptoms present, a patient examination may be followed by laboratory tests that observe the activities of the thyroid hormone and antibodies. An ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan, biopsy, or thyroid scan or sonography may also be suggested depending on any finding detected by your doctor.
MRI Definition: A type of scan which utilizes radio waves and magnetic fields to create detailed images of what’s inside the body
CT Scan Definition: A type of scan which joins a series of x-ray images taken from various angles around the body and utilizes computer methods to produce cross-sectional images of the soft tissues, blood vessels, and bones in the body
Thyroid Sonography Definition: A diagnostic test that uses a sonogram that emits inaudible sound waves into the neck. The echoing sounds determine the status of the thyroid and nearby tissue groups. Thyroid sonography detects the lump in the neck, its size, and its form (solid or cystic).
Are There Any Complications for Goiter?
Small goiters which don’t cause cosmetic or physical problems are not of major concern. The problem occurs when goiters get larger, which make it difficult for you to swallow or even breathe and cause you to cough often.
Developing goiters as a result of other conditions, like hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, may cause symptoms such as trouble sleeping, irritability, weight gain, and fatigue.
What Are the Treatment Options for Goiter?
A number of goiter treatment options are available for different types of the condition’s symptoms. Regular consultations with your doctor are very common for small thyroid swelling, as well as proper supplementation for iodine deficiency if any.
Further diagnosis such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and thyroiditis may require medication and thyroid hormone replacement to decrease showing symptoms.
Other treatment options for goiter include the following:
- Radioactive iodine treatment
- Levothyroxine (Synthroid)
When Should a Goiter Be Removed?
Thyroidectomy is a surgical procedure which operates on the thyroid gland. It may remove the organ completely (total thyroidectomy) or partially (thyroid lobectomy).
Generally, the surgical removal of the thyroid (or a portion of it) is recommended based on the following:
- Size of the nodule – if it’s affecting breathing and swallowing or compressing neighboring body parts
- Malignancy – to prevent spreading to other organs
- Uncertain findings – to prevent potential complications or cancer
- The use of medication or hormone replacement therapy has proven ineffective.
What Are the Natural Remedies for Goiter?
Getting enough iodine intake through diet helps prevent and manage the symptoms of this condition.
Seaweed and seafood are high in iodine. But be aware that foods rich in iodine may greatly affect related conditions like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
You can also try the following foods as they are also rich in iodine:
- Himalayan pink rock salt
- Creamed corn
- Organic potatoes
- Organic lima beans
- Raw, organic cheese
- Organic yogurt
- Raw milk
- Cape cod cranberries
Although these suggested foods are high in iodine, it’s best to consult your doctor if you want to include them in your diet, especially if you are allergic to certain foods.
The recommended daily requirement for iodine is 150 μg, as per the American Thyroid Association.
Do Goiters Go Away on Their Own?
Goiters may disappear on their own depending on their nature. A simple, benign, and small nodule has a higher likelihood of going away on its own compared to a large, malignant, and cystic nodule.
The disappearance of goiter nodules may also depend on the behavior of the necessary hormones – thyroid hormones and thyroid-stimulating hormone – and of the necessary organs – thyroid gland and pituitary gland.
Do Goiters Turn into Cancer?
There are cases when goiters are a result of thyroid tumors, which are typically benign but can be malignant.
If the biopsy findings turn out to be malignant, 95% of the cases usually have thyroid cancer. There are kinds of thyroid cancer which lead to generalized thyroid swelling, too.
This is why it is important to know the real cause of a swollen thyroid. Should there be any complication or if the condition turns out to be cancerous, one can immediately prepare for appropriate treatment.
Learn more about what causes goiter and how to treat it in this video from Healthery:
While it’s important to constantly be on the lookout for goiter symptoms, be sure to check in with your doctor first to confirm any conditions before giving yourself medication.
Consulting with medical professionals also allows for a series of analytical tests and observations that will let you know which medication and treatment plan best suits you.
It is also important for adults to consume a healthy mix of daily vitamins. We recommend this Vitamin D3 supplement.
Do you know of other or new treatment options for goiter? How effective are they? Share them with us in the comments section below!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 22, 2019, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.