What are Thyroid Nodules?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Thyroid nodules are small lumps which develop in the thyroid gland, a gland located at the base of the neck. These growths are extremely common, appearing in an estimated 50% of all people, and the vast majority of them are benign. In fact, thyroid nodules have been discovered in greater numbers since the development of sophisticated medical imaging equipment, as they often show up on tests performed to look for other things. This would suggest that many people are living with thyroid nodules without knowing it.

Patients might have an ultrasound scan of the thyroid to evaluate nodules.
Patients might have an ultrasound scan of the thyroid to evaluate nodules.

There are a number of different types of thyroid nodules. One of the most common is a colloid nodule, caused by an overgrowth of thyroid tissue. Thyroid cysts are filled with fluid, making them soft to the touch, while inflammatory nodules are caused by irritation, infection, or inflammation. Hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules, associated with some thyroid diseases, produce hormones which trigger the thyroid to overproduce, causing hyperthyroidism. Another example of a type of thyroid nodule is a cancerous thyroid nodule.

A radioactive form of iodine may be used to help treat thyroid nodules.
A radioactive form of iodine may be used to help treat thyroid nodules.

Typically, thyroid nodules are discovered during a routine physical exam, because it takes training to detect a nodule. They may also show up on medical imaging studies of the neck. In most cases, there are no symptoms, although some people experience shortness of breath, anxiety, weight loss, or an increased heart rate, especially in the case of malignant nodules. Sometimes, the nodule grows large enough to press on the windpipe, making it hard to breathe, speak, or swallow.

Many people live with thyroid nodules without ever knowing it.
Many people live with thyroid nodules without ever knowing it.

If a doctor detects a thyroid nodule, the response is usually to order more testing to determine what kind of nodule it is. Blood can be drawn to check the levels of various thyroid hormones in the blood, and a doctor may also biopsy the nodule to test it directly. A thyroid scan can also be used as a diagnostic tool, to visualize the thyroid and get an idea about what is going in the thyroid.

It usually takes a doctor doing a physical exam to find thyroid nodules.
It usually takes a doctor doing a physical exam to find thyroid nodules.

After tests have been used to gather more information about the nodule, the treatment varies, depending on what type of nodule it is. Sometimes, the best treatment is no treatment, if the nodule is benign. If the nodule is malignant, as happens in around five to 10% of cases, the next step is often to remove the nodule, using radioactive iodine, surgery, or injections of alcohol to shrink the nodule. Some doctors also prescribe thyroid medications to reduce the amount of hormones being produced by the thyroid.

Thyroid functioning affects the body's metabolism.
Thyroid functioning affects the body's metabolism.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon328332

How does one ignore discomfort and pain? What's wrong with these doctors that they send us home to try to deal with this without real treatment? Are they just adding to their data? Try sleeping with a tennis ball taped to your throat!

anon185327

If there is discomfort and/or pain I would have the surgery. I had it five years ago. I have a nodule on the other side now, but, there is no pain or discomfort so I will just let it be.

The surgery is usually partial so you are left with some thyroid which will likely take over producing the antibodies/hormones of the removed portion. Mine did.

suvanisairam

I have been detected with a thyroid nodule in the right lobe. Scan report says; well defined heterogeneous nodule( 4.0X1.9cm) in the right lobe.

FNAC says, Paucicellular aspirate, ultrasound guided FNA from nodule in right lobe of thyroid. Inadequate for opinion.

For the past few days, I have had some palpitations in my right lobe. It is not very frequent but can feel it only when i sleep. Is this normal? I feel uncomfortable during my sleep, feels like being choked.

Sometimes I have difficulty in breathing. I can see my neck is swollen on the right side.

My T3,T4,TSH,FT3,FT4, thyroid antibodies, anti-thyroglobulin antibody, blood glucose-random, lipids profile and liver function test all came out to be normal. The doctor asked me to ignore the nodule as all the test results are normal. He further said that FNAC is also not required.

I am not on any medication. My confusion starts here. I met two endocrinologists and both have given me different opinions. The first one suggested that it might have to be operated on! The second one opined that I am far from surgery! What is the best possible treatment I can undergo? Or should I simply ignore the nodule in spite of all the discomfort and pain?

Can anyone guide me? Thanks in advance.

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