The thyroid is a small, ductless gland located in the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. It’s part of the endocrine system and is responsible for regulating the body’s growth and development through your metabolism.
Goiter is a blanket term for the abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland. It’s one of the most common diseases of the endocrine system, wherein the thyroid secretes unusually little (hypothyroidism) or large (hyperthyroidism) amounts of the hormone.
Hyperthyroidism is an endocrine disease that affects about 1% of women but is less common in men. It can affect the patient’s life through various symptoms like difficulty in sleeping, irritability, restlessness, and increased sweating. It can cause weight gain, fatigue, memory problems, depression, and increased sensitivity to the cold, to name a few.
Causes of Thyroid Gland Enlargement
Since goiter does not refer to just one disease, several other disorders or lifestyle factors can influence its development. Here are some examples.
- Iodine deficiency – Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of goiters worldwide. The thyroid gland uses iodine in the bloodstream to make thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH). When the body is low on iodine, the thyroid will work twice as hard to produce TSH. The cells will then grow and multiply, eventually leading to a goiter.
- Graves’ disease – Graves’ disease is the most common manifestation of hyperthyroidism, affecting 70% of those with an overactive thyroid. It is an autoimmune disorder that triggers the thyroid gland to produce too much TSH, which forms a goiter.
- Hashimoto’s disease – Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune sickness that causes chronic inflammation and failure of the thyroid gland. When this happens, the production of the TSH is limited, thus leading to hypothyroidism, another manifestation of a goiter.
- Pregnancy – Pregnant women are prone to iodine deficiency, which is another reason behind the development of a goiter. A pregnancy hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin can also cause the thyroid gland to slightly enlarge.
- Solitary thyroid nodules – This means that a single solid or fluid-filled lump developed in one area of your thyroid gland. Fortunately, in most cases, these nodules are benign and do not lead to cancer.
- Multinodular goiter – In this situation, several nodules have developed on both sides of the thyroid gland, resulting in the overall enlargement of the area.
- Age, gender, and medical history – Goiters are more common in women and people over 40 years old. If your family has a medical history of autoimmune disease, the risk of developing goiter increases.
How to Treat Thyroid Gland Enlargement
Depending on what underlying disease you already have, the treatment plan for your goiter will vary. Consult with a doctor specializing in endocrinology to take a closer look at the cause of your goiter and learn what you can do to manage its effects or totally cure it.
If it turns out that you have an autoimmune disease, you will have to follow a separate treatment plan or specific medication. It’s best to consult with your physician for a personalized treatment to your condition. However, if your goiter is not due to an autoimmune disease, you may look into these options in conjunction with professional medical advice.
- Observation – If your goiter is small and not too bothersome, your doctor may not prescribe medication. Just monitor the area for any changes in size, as well as the intensity of the symptoms you experience.
- Medication – If you are suffering from a hyperactive thyroid gland, you may be prescribed antithyroid drugs to regulate and prevent it from producing too much hormone. If you are not producing enough TSH, you may be asked to do thyroid hormone replacement therapy.
- Surgery – Surgery can be done to remove your thyroid gland if it is posing too much of a problem or interfering with the way you live your life, like breathing or swallowing. You can either have all or part of the thyroid gland removed. This is also the suggested course of action if there is cancer present in the area. Surgery may also be a treatment plan to remove nodules.
- Radioactive iodine treatment – In the case of an overactive thyroid gland, radioactive iodine is taken orally to kill thyroid cells and reduce the production of TSH. Doing so will shrink the thyroid gland. After this treatment, patients are required to take thyroid hormone replacement therapy for the rest of their lives.
Goiter Awareness is One Step Closer to Treatment
If you have a family history of goiter or experience the symptoms mentioned above, it is worth visiting a doctor for proper consultation. The earlier the diagnosis of your goiter, the sooner you can seek the best options with your doctor’s recommendation.