A goiter is categorized as the abnormal enlargement or growth of the thyroid gland. Your thyroid gland sits at the base of the front side of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple, so goiter development occurs in the neck region. But why exactly does a goiter develop, and how is the condition treated? We take a closer look at the condition in today’s blog.
Goiter Causes and Symptoms
A goiter can develop for a number of different reasons. Enlargement can occur because the thyroid gland is producing too much hormone (hyperthyroidism), too little hormone (hypothyroidism) or even if the gland is producing the correct amount of hormone (euthyroidism). A goiter is more commonly associated with too much or too little hormone production, but it’s important to remember than it can still grow abnormally while producing the correct level of hormones.
But what causes the body to produce too much or too little of a hormone? Around the world, one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency. The thyroid produces its hormones by using iodine from the bloodstream. If the blood doesn’t have enough iodine in it, the gland can’t make enough of the hormone. This sends a chemical signal to your brain, which in turn sends a signal to the thyroid known as a thyroid stimulating hormone. As the name implies, this helps stimulate hormone production, but it also results in abnormal enlargement of the gland and the development of a goiter.
That said, iodine deficiency is not very common in the western world. A more common cause of goiter development in the United States is because of autoimmune conditions that damage the thyroid gland. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is one of these autoimmune disorders that damages the thyroid, which again leads to the expression of the thyroid stimulating hormone and potential goiter development. Another common autoimmune condition is Graves’ disease, in which a person’s immune system produces a protein that stimulates thyroid gland growth. This condition also stimulates the thyroid to produce extra hormone, so it is closely associated with hyperthyroidism. Symptoms of a goiter include:
- Regionalized pain
- Difficulty speaking, swallowing or breathing
If you notice any of the above symptoms, set up a consultation with a specialist immediately.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Goiters
A goiter is generally diagnosed through a physical examination. Since the condition involves a visual enlargement of your thyroid, doctors can usually diagnose them without the need for an MRI. That said, as we mentioned above, a number of different things could be causing the goiter, so additional testing will be needed to determine how the thyroid gland is functioning. Once your doctor understands what caused the goiter to develop, treatment can begin.
Treatment obviously depends on the root cause. For example, if the goiter was due to an iodine deficiency, you’ll be prescribed iodine supplements. If it’s being caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, you’ll be given a thyroid hormone supplement. If the goiter is due to hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease, specialized medication will be used to help shrink the goiter and control hormone production.
As long as your thyroid hormone levels are being regulated and the goiter isn’t getting any bigger, you should be fine. In the event that it grows so large that breathing becomes problematic, surgery may be necessary.