What Is a Goiter?
A goiter is an enlargement or swelling of the thyroid, a gland in the throat that secretes a hormone which regulates body growth and metabolism. Goiters vary in size and, though sometimes unsightly, are generally painless. Rarely, a goiter may press against the trachea or esophagus, causing difficulty in breathing or swallowing. The disorder affects women four times more often than men.
What Causes Goiter?
- A goiter is a common manifestation of Graves' disease (hyperthyroidism) and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, two serious thyroid disorders.
- Benign or malignant tumors of the thyroid gland may result in a goiter.
- Certain drugs designed to slow thyroid hormone production may cause goiters.
- Goiters may appear in women because of hormonal changes that occur with pregnancy.
- Goiters can be caused by insufficient amounts of iodine in the diet. This is now rare in the United States since the advent of iodized salt.
Symptoms of Goiter
- A swelling in the neck, ranging from a barely noticeable lump to a large growth
- Difficulty in breathing or swallowing, or unexplained hoarseness (although these symptoms are rare)
- Feeling of tightness in the throat
- Dizziness when the arms are raised above the head
Prevention of Goiter
- There is no known way to prevent goiter except in cases caused by a dietary insufficiency of iodine.
Diagnosis of Goiter
- Patient history and physical examination are performed.
- Blood tests, taken to evaluate the functional status of the thyroid gland, may also help to determine the underlying cause of the goiter.
- Antibody test may be performed to look for certain antibodies that are produced in some forms of goiter.
- Thyroid scan with radioactive iodine or an ultrasound exam may be done.
- To evaluate the size and extent of the goiter, CT scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of the thyroid may be used
- Fine-needle biopsy may be performed to rule out malignancy.
How to Treat Goiter
- Thyroid-hormone-replacement therapy may ease the demand on the gland to produce thyroid hormone, which may cause it to decrease in size.
- Surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid may be necessary if the goiter is large, causes difficulty in breathing or swallowing, or is due to a malignant tumor.
- Your doctor may alter your prescription if the goiter is due to a medication.
- A diet that includes iodized salt and fish is advised in the unlikely event of iodine deficiency.
When to Call a Doctor
- Call a doctor for any swelling in the neck.
Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference
Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor
Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50
Updated by Remedy Health Media