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Definition Return to top
A goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. It is not cancer.
Causes Return to top
There are different kinds of goiters. A simple goiter can occur for no known reason, or when the thyroid gland is not able to produce enough thyroid hormone to meet the body's needs. The thyroid gland makes up for this by becoming larger.
There are two types of simple goiter:
Goiters occur in groups of people who live in areas with iodine-poor soil. These regions are usually away from the sea coast. People in these communities might not get enough iodine in their diet (iodine is needed to produce thyroid hormone).
The use of iodized table salt in the United States today prevents iodine deficiency. However, a lack of enough iodine is still common in central Asia, the Andes region of South America, and central Africa.
In most cases of sporadic goiter the cause is unknown. Occasionally, certain medications such as lithium or aminoglutethimide can cause a nontoxic goiter.
Inherited factors may cause goiters. Risk factors include:
Symptoms Return to top
The main symptom is a swollen thyroid gland. The size may range from a single small nodule to large neck lump.
The swollen thyroid can put pressure on the windpipe and esophagus, which can lead to:
There may be neck vein swelling and dizziness when the arms are raised above the head.
Exams and Tests Return to top
The doctor will feel your neck as you swallow. The doctor may be able to feel swelling in the area.
Tests that may be done include:
If nodules are found on ultrasound, a biopsy should be done to check for thyroid cancer.
Treatment Return to top
A goiter only needs to be treated if it is causing symptoms.
Treatments for an enlarged thyroid include:
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
A simple goiter may disappear on its own, or may become large. Over time, destruction to the thyroid may cause the gland to stop making enough thyroid hormone. This condition is called hypothyroidism.
Occasionally, a goiter may become toxic and produce thyroid hormone on its own. This can cause high levels of thyroid hormone, a condition called hyperthyroidism.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if you experience any swelling in the front of your neck or any other symptoms of goiter.
Prevention Return to top
The use of iodized table salt prevents endemic colloid goiter.
References Return to top
Vanderpas J. Nutritional epidemiology and thyroid hormone metabolism. Ann Rev Nutr. 2006; 26:293-322.
AACE/AME. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and Associazione Medici Endocrinologi. Medical Guidelines for Clinical Practice for the Diagnosis and Management of Thyroid Nodules. Endocr Pract. 2006 Jan-Feb;12(1):63-102.
Ladenson P, Kim M. Thyroid. In: Goldman L and Ausiello D, eds. Goldman: Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders; 2007:chap 244.Update Date: 6/17/2008 Updated by: Elizabeth H. Holt, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Section of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Yale University. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.