Goiter refers to a condition characterized by an enlarged thyroid. The disorder could be short-lived or an on-going problem pointing to a more serious medical condition. This may occur with or without visible swelling in the front part of the neck which can be slightly painful and tender to the touch. Having an enlarged thyroid makes the person feel like having something stuck in his/her throat making it difficult to breathe and swallow. Since the thyroid is essential for various bodily functions, a problematic thyroid gland will result in an assortment of symptoms as well.
Individuals who have goiter should seek treatment to restore normal thyroid functioning. Treatment will not only address the accompanying symptoms, but more importantly, treat the underlying cause. The suitable treatment strategy is largely dependent on the root cause. It may involve hormone therapy and surgery. It would be best to have a qualified healthcare expert diagnose the condition and design the appropriate treatment plan.
The hallmark feature of goiter is the visible lump at the front part of the neck, close to the Adam’s apple. Though this may not be apparent in some individuals, they may still share similar problems with those with the visible lump. These include:
- Difficulty in swallowing and breathing
- Difficulty in chewing and speaking
- Sore throat
- Hoarseness of voice
- Tightness of neck
- Swollen vein in the neck
Other bodily systems may become affected too and result in several discomforting symptoms, such as:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Increased pulse rate
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Unusual sweating
- Dry skin
- Scanty period
- Weight gain
Goiter develops when the thyroid gland becomes enlarged. This enlargement of the thyroid gland causes it to malfunction. Since the thyroid produces hormones that are essential for digestion, metabolism, body temperature, pulse rate, and mood, any problem with the thyroid will also affect various bodily functions.
A lot of factors can cause the thyroid to swell and malfunction, and among these are:
Lack of iodine
Iodine deficiency accounts for over 90% of cases of goiter across the globe. This mineral is essential in stimulating the thyroid to produce hormones. Without the sufficient amount of iodine, the pituitary gland senses this and stimulates the thyroid. The thyroid compensates for the lack of hormone by growing in size, causing it to swell up.
Certain medications or treatment method
Certain drugs have a drastic effect on the thyroid. Most of these medications are used for treating mood and anxiety disorders, major depression and schizoaffective disorder. Moreover, radiation test and therapy involving the neck or head have been found to cause the enlargement of the thyroid.
Hormonal changes are particularly worrisome during pregnancy. This is mainly due to the HCG or human chorionic gonadotropin hormone which can cause the thyroid to become enlarged especially during the last phase of pregnancy.
Tumors and infection
Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors can cause goiter. In fact, thyroid cancer is responsible for nearly 5% of goiter. Bacterial and viral infections can also lead to an enlarged thyroid.
Certain medical conditions
Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s disease are autoimmune disorders that occur when the immune system produces antibodies that mistakenly attack the thyroid. Goiter could also be brought about by the development of multiple nodules on either or both sides of the thyroid.
Furthermore, goiter can be classified as:
The thyroid is enlarged because of rounded nodules in the gland causing it to produce abnormally high amounts of thyroid hormones (or hyperthyroidism).
There are no visible nodules involved and thyroid enlargement arises even if hormone production is relatively normal.
This form is an outcome of an inactive thyroid gland resulting in low thyroid hormone (or hypothyroidism). The gland tries to compensate for the hormone inadequacy by augmenting hormone production, causing it to become enlarged.
Sporadic goiter is a diet-induced thyroid enlargement involving eating high amounts of foods that interfere with thyroid hormone production. Some of these foods are spinach, peaches, soybeans, peanuts and cabbage.
Diagnosis and treatment
There are plenty of treatment options to choose from and the doctor can help determine which is most suitable for the patient. The doctor will first try to figure out the reason behind the thyroid enlargement by running a series of tests, such as:
- Physical exam
- Antibody test
- Thyroid function test
- MRI or CT scan
- Thyroid scan
- Biopsy (if cancer is suspected)
The doctor will then plan the treatment based on the cause, symptoms and extent of thyroid enlargement. This may involve:
- Watchful waiting
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Radioactive treatment
Females are primarily at risk of goiter. Living a healthy lifestyle and eating a well-balanced diet helps in reducing the chances of having an enlarged thyroid. Goiter shouldn’t be neglected because it could possibly lead to more serious health problems.