Ever wonder what thyroid nodules are and what they do to your body? Here are some FAQs about this condition to give you a better understanding of how it affects your overall health.
In this article:
- What Are Thyroid Nodules?
- What Are the Types of Thyroid Nodules?
- What Causes Thyroid Nodules?
- What Are the Thyroid Nodule Symptoms?
- How Do Doctors Evaluate and Diagnose Thyroid Nodules?
- How Do You Treat Thyroid Nodules?
- When Do You Need to See a Doctor?
- Can You Prevent Thyroid Nodules?
- Are Thyroid Nodules a Serious Condition?
- How Are Patients’ Quality of Life Affected by Thyroid Nodules?
What You Should Know About Thyroid Nodules
What Are Thyroid Nodules?
Thyroid nodules are abnormal growths of thyroid cells forming a lump in the thyroid gland. The majority of these nodules are non-cancerous, but a small part of the lump has thyroid cancer.
What Are the Types of Thyroid Nodules?
There are 2 types of thyroid nodules:
Benign thyroid nodules are those that are not cancerous. They may be toxic (those that cause the thyroid gland to become overactive such as in hyperthyroidism), goiter, and thyroid cyst.
- Thyroid Cancers
Five to ten percent of thyroid nodules are cancerous, and, rarely, they cause the following:
- changes in the sound of the voice
- shortness of breath
- swallowing problems
- neck swelling
What Causes Thyroid Nodules?
There are several health conditions that can trigger the formation of thyroid nodules in the thyroid gland:
- Iodine Deficiency
Being deficient in iodine can sometimes cause the formation of abnormal growths of thyroid cells.
- Thyroid Tissue Overgrowth
Overgrowth of your thyroid tissue may be non-cancerous and not a serious concern, but it can sometimes be bothersome because of its size. The reason for the overgrowth is unclear.
Medical experts refer to this condition as thyroid adenoma wherein the gland produces hormones outside of the pituitary gland’s normal regulatory influence.
- Thyroid Cysts
Thyroid cysts are inflamed fluid-filled sections of the thyroid gland. They can be small – less than 1 cm – or large.
They can sometimes occur suddenly. Cysts that are purely fluid-filled have a lower risk of developing into thyroid cancer compared to cysts with solid components.
- Chronic Inflammation of the Thyroid Gland
Hashimoto’s disease is a condition wherein the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This leads to chronic inflammation and, eventually, nodular enlargement.
“Goiter” is the general term for any case of inflammation in the thyroid gland, either because of a thyroid disorder or iodine deficiency.
What Are the Thyroid Nodule Symptoms?
In most cases, thyroid nodules do not cause signs and symptoms, but some nodules can become so large that they present the following symptoms:
- shortness of breath or difficulty swallowing when you press your esophagus
- inflammation is visible at the base of the neck
- palpable size
Thyroid nodules produce more thyroxine in some cases which can lead to hyperthyroidism-like symptoms:
- irregular or rapid heartbeat
- increased perspiration
- unexplained weight loss
How Do Doctors Evaluate and Diagnose Thyroid Nodules?
Once doctors discover thyroid nodules, they will check to see if the rest of the thyroid gland is still healthy. Initial laboratory tests may include the measurement of the thyroid-stimulating hormone or the thyroid hormone (T4) in the blood.
The evaluation of the thyroid nodules also requires specialized tests to fully determine whether the nodules are cancerous.
- Thyroid Ultrasound
This procedure uses high-frequency sound waves to get a picture of the thyroid. It can help doctors determine the size of the nodules and if they are solid or fluid.
- Thyroid Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy
This biopsy uses a very fine needle to withdraw thyroid cells from the nodule. Doctors may take several samples in different parts of the nodule to get the best chance of searching for the cancerous cells if present.
Pathologists examine the obtained cells to see if there are benign or malignant thyroid cells.
- Molecular Diagnostics
These are tests that can help examine the genes in the thyroid nodules’ DNA. They can also aid in determining cancer cells in the nodules.
These tests are especially helpful when the specimens pathologists screen are indeterminate.
How Do You Treat Thyroid Nodules?
There are different types of treatment for nodules, depending on the type:
- Watchful Waiting
Watchful waiting is having thyroid function tests and a physical exam at regular intervals. If the nodule is even bigger, patients may have to undergo another biopsy.
- Thyroid Hormone Suppression Therapy
This therapy involves taking levothyroxine, a synthetic form of thyroxine in a form of a pill. This allows an additional supply of thyroid hormone that signals the pituitary to produce less thyroid-stimulating hormone, which is responsible for stimulating thyroid tissue growth.
This applies if the nodule is so large that it already affects breathing and swallowing. Nodules that are suspicious or indeterminate need surgery to examine for signs of cancer.
When nodules are cancerous, surgery is the usual treatment. It removes toxic thyroid cells.
There may be a need for lifelong treatment of levothyroxine to supply the body with the normal amount of thyroid hormones after surgery.
- Alcohol Ablation
This procedure deals with injecting a small amount of alcohol into the nodule to destroy cancerous cells and shrink the nodule itself. Alcohol ablation is helpful in curing cancer cells that appear in areas not easily accessible by surgery.
When Do You Need to See a Doctor?
If you think you have thyroid nodules or your thyroid is affecting how you breathe or swallow, immediately consult a physician.
If you experience symptoms of hyperthyroidism, such as fatigue and weakness, heat intolerance, and excessive sweating, or hypothyroidism, such as weight gain, hair loss, and cold intolerance, over an extended period, it’s time you visit your doctor, too.
Abnormality in the function of the thyroid gland should always be given special attention as it significantly affects your overall health.
Can You Prevent Thyroid Nodules?
The causes of developing nodules depend on one’s genetic makeup, general health condition, diet, lifestyle, and other predisposing factors. What you can do is consume foods rich in iodine, such as table salt, seafood, and dairy products to help boost your thyroid gland’s health.
Are Thyroid Nodules a Serious Condition?
Having thyroid nodules may not be bothersome to some especially they have a small benign type. But, for the cancerous type, this condition is a serious one primarily because it can develop some complications.
Close monitoring of the nodule’s behavior and strict compliance to treatment are of utmost importance. Patients can opt for treatments such as radioactive iodine and alcohol injection into the thyroid cell.
How Are Patients’ Quality of Life Affected by Thyroid Nodules?
Most patients with this condition are living a normal life, but they need to have check-ups more often to monitor their situation. For complications such as difficulty in breathing or swallowing or significant weight gain or loss, doctors can prescribe medication that can minimize them.
Here is more information about thyroid nodules and what you should do from Clayman Thyroid Cancer Center:
Understanding thyroid nodules allows you to know what you can do to deal with the condition. The important thing is to immediately check with your doctor in case you experience any abnormality with your thyroid function.
What new treatment innovations on thyroid nodules to you know of? Let’s talk about them in the comments section!