Goiter refers to the enlargement of the thyroid gland, which can be caused by several conditions, including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. This condition is usually treated with medications, radioactive iodine, and surgery or thyroidectomy.
Goiter is usually defined as an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland, which becomes visible as a nodule or a lump at the base of the neck, just below the Adam’s apple.
The thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck. It is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is concerned with the production of the hormones – thyroxine and triiodothyronine. These two hormones regulate the rate of metabolism. The functioning of the thyroid gland is controlled by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland.
The thyroid gland can enlarge due to several factors. More commonly, it is caused by a deficiency of iodine, which is required by the thyroid gland to produce the thyroid hormones. A deficiency of iodine can affect the functioning of the gland, and lead to hypothyroidism, which is characterized by the insufficient production of the thyroid hormones. This in turn, can cause the gland to enlarge.
Like hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland) can also cause the thyroid gland to enlarge. Apart from these, some other possible causes are, chronic thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, inflammation of the thyroid or thyroiditis, thyroid nodules, multinodular goiter, pregnancy, and thyroid cancer.
Signs and Symptoms
Swelling or the presence of a nodule or lump at the base of the neck is the most common sign or symptom of goiter. In some instances, this can be the only symptom, especially if the condition is not associated with any kind of hormonal imbalance. The following are the common signs and symptoms of this condition:
- Swelling at the base of the neck, just below the Adam’s apple
- Tightness in the throat
- Difficulty in swallowing and breathing (if the lump is very large)
- Coughing and wheezing
- Distension of the neck vein
- Depression and irritability
- Weight loss
Physicians usually conduct a thyroid scan, which can provide insight into the nature and size of the thyroid gland. A case of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be detected with the help of a thyroid scan. A blood test is also performed to determine the levels of the thyroid hormones. Other diagnostic tests employed for this condition are, antibody test, ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the thyroid gland.
Physicians initially adopt a policy of ‘wait and watch’, if the goiter is small and is not growing in size. But if it is large and growing, and is also likely to cause difficulty in swallowing and breathing, the condition is treated immediately. The treatment to a great extent depends on the underlying causes. If it is caused by hypothyroidism, then levothyroxine can be used. On the other hand, radioactive iodine is used for treating an overactive thyroid gland. Another option is surgery of the thyroid gland or thyroidectomy, which can be total or partial. A thyroidectomy is the preferred option for treating thyroid cancer, and large and nodular goiter.
The incidence of goiter caused by iodine deficiency can be lowered by including iodized salt in the diet, or by consuming seafood and seaweed. But if excess iodine is the cause of this condition, then the consumption of seafood, iodized salt, and seaweed needs to be restricted. However, it is important to consult a physician on observing any of the symptoms of goiter, as prompt treatment can help prevent the complications associated with this condition.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.