Goiter is a condition wherein there is an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland. This article provides information regarding the same.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck just below the Adam’s apple. The main function of this gland is to use iodine from the blood to produce the thyroid hormone. When this gland grows abnormally in size, it gives rise to a condition called goiter. A goiter may be a temporary condition which might subside on its own without any medical intervention, or a symptom of an underlying serious thyroid condition that requires immediate medical attention. It is more prevalent in women, people above 40 years of age, and people with family history of goiter.
Following are the common causes of goiter:
Iodine deficiency: This is one of the most common causes of goiter. Inadequate iodine intake will lead to insufficient thyroid hormone production called hypothyroidism. As a result, the pituitary gland senses the below normal level of the thyroid hormone and starts secreting the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). This hormone stimulates the thyroid gland to produce the thyroid hormone and to enlarge.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: This is an autoimmune condition wherein a person’s immune system starts destroying the thyroid gland. This leads to inadequate production of the thyroid hormone. The pituitary gland in the brain detects a low thyroid hormone level and secretes more TSH, which stimulates the thyroid gland and causes it enlargement.
Graves’ Disease : In this disorder, a person’s immune system produces thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI), which is a type of protein. This TSI causes the enlargement of the thyroid gland and the production of excess thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism).
Multinodular Goiters: A person affected by this disorder has one or more nodules within the gland which cause the enlargement of the thyroid gland.
Goiter can also occur due to the following causes that are not so common:
- Genetic defects
- Infections or injury in the thyroid gland
- Tumors in the thyroid gland (both cancerous and benign)
The main physical symptom observed is the heavy swelling of the thyroid gland without any pain. The swelling may vary from a small nodule to a large lump in the neck. If the goiter is very large, it may put pressure on the trachea and esophagus. In such cases, following symptoms will be observed:
- Difficulty in breathing or swallowing
- Wheezing sound
Blood tests may be performed to determine the amount of hormones produced by your thyroid (T4) and pituitary glands (TSH). Other tests that may be performed are:
Ultrasound: This test involves taking pictures of the thyroid gland using sound waves.
Thyroid Scan: During this test, a radioactive isotope is injected into the vein on the inside of the patient’s elbow. As the isotope reaches the thyroid gland, a special camera produces its image on a computer screen.
Biopsy: During this test, a needle is inserted into the thyroid gland to obtain a tissue sample for testing under the guidance of ultrasound.
If a small goiter exists with a little but permissible level of secretion of iodine, then there’s no requirement for any treatment. In other cases, the treatment is generally initiated with surgery to remove the extra growth. There are some cases where a radioactive iodine treatment is used to treat overactive thyroid gland. This is usually done by giving the patient small doses of radioactive iodine mixed with normal vitamin capsules. These tablets help in slowly disintegrating the thyroid tissue; however, excessive doses may lead to passive effects on the body.
Although simple goiters can be prevented using iodized-table salt, people should also include iodine -rich foods in their diet.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.