What is a Thyroid Goiter?

Erin J. Hill

A thyroid goiter is a swelling of the thyroid gland, causing a noticeable enlarged area at the base of a neck. Some with thyroid disease never experience this inflammation, while others have it quite noticeably even before thyroid tests detect a problem. If a thyroid goiter is noticed during a routine examination, a blood test may be conducted to check for a thyroid condition.

A thyroid goiter is a swelling of the thyroid gland.
A thyroid goiter is a swelling of the thyroid gland.

There are a wide range of issues which may cause a goiter. Iodine deficiency is one of the most common. This is primarily a problem in the developing world where iodine is not added into foods such as table salt as it is in industrialized nations. Iodine is naturally found primarily in seafood and algae. Those who do not have enough of this mineral can get more by taking over the counter supplements or feeding on seafood.

A doctor will be able to notice a goiter during a physical exam of the thyroid.
A doctor will be able to notice a goiter during a physical exam of the thyroid.

Both underactive and overactive thyroid conditions can also cause a goiter. These are used to describe conditions where the thyroid gland is either producing too little or too much of certain hormones. Either of these can lead to a thyroid goiter. Both are treated with medication and are generally fully treatable when caught early and monitored closely.

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Table salt contains iodine, which can help prevent goiters.
Table salt contains iodine, which can help prevent goiters.

Less common conditions may also lead to a thyroid goiter. Sometimes one or more nodules can develop on or near the thyroid and cause swelling. Occasionally thyroid cancer can also lead to a goiter, although this is less common. Sometimes inflammation of the thyroid is not due to any known cause.

A swelling of the thyroid gland is referred to as a thyroid goiter.
A swelling of the thyroid gland is referred to as a thyroid goiter.

Any form of thyroid goiter requires treatment by a doctor. Although generally not life threatening, thyroid disorders can eventually lead to more serious health complications. The thyroid gland helps to regulate various other areas of the body, and a malfunction can cause nearly any bodily system to function incorrectly. Changes in menstruation, slowed or faster than normal metabolism, skin changes, and changes in heart rate can all indicate a thyroid problem.

Most goiters are discovered during a routine exam, but patients who notice a sudden or unusual swelling in the neck should consult a physician. Sometimes fat deposits can cause this. Bloodwork will need to be performed in order to determine the severity and cause of a thyroid goiter. Treatments will depend on the condition as well as on any additional underlying health conditions.

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

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