What Is a Goiter?

By kara
Reviewed: Dr. Gromatzky
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When a part of the body becomes abnormally enlarged or inflamed, it is important to stop, take note, and determine whether it is a health issue that should concern you. Should you discover an enlargement in your neck just below the Adam’s apple, it could be a goiter. This condition occurs when your thyroid gland enlarges due to various circumstances. While it can cause a number of issues with your thyroid’s ability to perform basic functions, the size of the goiter itself can also act as a physical block in the throat, preventing you from swallowing.

A goiter can develop in almost anyone when the conditions are right. Still, statistics show that more women than men tend to have this health concern. There are several treatment options available to help, but first it is important for you to understand the symptoms and causes of a goiter.

1. Common Goiter Symptoms

The most obvious sign of a goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland. The swollen gland can make it difficult to handle simple functions like swallowing. In more severe cases, a goiter might make it hard for a person to breathe. This is accompanied by a tight feeling in the throat and may cause a general hoarseness of the voice. Some people with goiters report coughing fits along with strained breathing.

While there are a number of symptoms that can inform you of the presence of a goiter, it will not always be an easy catch. In fact, reports suggest that a number of people who develop a goiter do not show any signs or symptoms. Whether you exhibit symptoms comes down to the general size and severity of the goiter itself.


2. Goiters and the Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland plays an important part in your body’s functions. It is responsible for producing hormones regulating a number of vital processes such as metabolic rate, heartbeat, mood, and digestive function. While the thyroid produces a number of different hormones, there are a few that are important to focus on. Thyroxine and triiodothyronine are the hormones specifically responsible for metabolic control, as well as sending signals to the body to inform it of the rate at which it should absorb and utilize fats and carbohydrates for energy in other processes.

Interestingly, a goiter might appear without any decreased performance from your thyroid gland and its hormone production. Still, some individuals with this condition report overactive thyroids or unbalanced hormones, especially in regard to the overall count of vital hormones like triiodothyronine. This can lead to issues with metabolism and cause the inability for a person to lose weight.

3. Goiters and Iodine Deficiency

For the thyroid to function at optimal capacity, it requires a few key elements. Above all, iodine is essential for the thyroid to keep producing hormones at the rate at which it is supposed to. A majority of people get their iodine intake from their diets, with fish and other seafood being excellent sources. Unfortunately, recent studies suggest that a majority of people do not eat enough foods containing this vital chemical element. When the body does not have enough iodine to continue with normal hormone production, it provides the right conditions for a goiter to develop.

The thyroid is structured to seek out iodine in the body when it senses that general levels are low. When this occurs, the thyroid begins to swell as the gland goes into this “crisis mode.” Once it becomes enlarged it is considered a goiter and can lead to other issues in the throat such as difficult with breathing or swallowing.


4. Goiters and Graves’ Disease

There are many cases where a goiter is the result of another condition that someone is living with. More often than not, this is a condition related to the thyroid. One example is Graves’ disease. An autoimmune disorder, Graves’ disease causes the thyroid to work harder and faster than normal, creating an abundance of certain hormones. What’s more, the immune system confuses the thyroid for a threat and sends signals for the thyroid to produce hormones at an even higher rate and cause the thyroid to become swollen.

Graves’ disease can be spotted by looking for a variety of different signs. Common symptoms include rapid heart rate, hand tremors, weakness in the muscles, fatigue, insomnia, and sudden weight loss. It can also be characterized by the presence of a goiter. When these symptoms appear and persist, consult with your doctor right away.

5. Chronic Autoimmune Conditions and Goiters

An overactive thyroid is not the only cause for concern when it comes to the body’s risk for developing a goiter. Outside of Grave’s disease, there are several other conditions that cause goiters to develop or impact the thyroid gland in a negative way. Hashimoto’s disease is another autoimmune disorder that causes issues with the thyroid. Also known as chronic autoimmune lymphocytic thyroiditis, this condition creates an underactive thyroid that does not produce the correct levels of various hormones. Common symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease include a scratchy or hoarse throat, goiters, weakened muscles and a general sense of fatigue.

Those who develop Hashimoto’s disease often have a family history of various disorders that impact the nervous system. These conditions include Grave’s disease, lupus, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Consult with your doctor if you have a family history of these conditions and learn your treatment options.


6. Inflammation and Goiters

While chronic and persistent conditions can usually be a good indication of why a goiter develops, there are several other common causes for this issue. Inflammation is the body’s way of responding to various threats. Unfortunately, the body can also cause itself harm due to consistent inflammation responses from the immune system. Inflammation around the thyroid or in the throat is usually a sign of one of several conditions classified as thyroiditis. Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can cause inflammation and, in turn, create the conditions for a goiter to develop.

Though thyroiditis can seem frightening, it is a somewhat common condition and several treatments are available. Most people are able to reduce inflammation and handle the issue by taking medication suggested by a primary care physician or exploring one of other successful treatment options.

7. Types of Goiters

There are several classifications of goiters of which you should stay aware. A colloid goiter is one of the more common types and usually occurs due to a person’s lack of iodine in his or her diet. An endemic goiter of this nature is usually easy to treat. Conversely, a nontoxic goiter, also known as a sporadic goiter, usually develops from an abundance of lithium in the system. Interestingly, nontoxic goiters don’t impact thyroid function. Finally, toxic nodular and multinodular goiters are comprised of several small nodes that each produce hormones, causing an overactive thyroid.

The best way to identify the type of goiter you’re living with is by speaking with a medical professional. A doctor can help inform you of the exact conditions that led to your goiter and suggest treatment options as well as lifestyle changes you can follow to improve your health moving forward.


8. Temporary Conditions and Goiters

While goiters tend to appear as the result of other medical conditions, not all of the scenarios that lead to this affliction are serious signs of other health problems. In fact, a goiter can temporarily appear due to a variety of circumstances. When a woman becomes pregnant, for example, her body produces more of the hormone known as HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin. This hormone causes the thyroid to enlarge a bit. In some women the thyroid can become too large, leading to a goiter that must be treated.

Someone who has thyroid cancer is also likely to experience this condition as a result of the disease. Typically, a medical professional will treat the goiter along with the cancer to create a more comfortable experience and aid in the process of recovery.

9. Risk Factors for Goiters

There are a number of key factors to pay attention to if you’re worried about developing a goiter. First and foremost, those who do not ingest enough iodine in their daily diets are the most susceptible to this condition. To avoid this, take active steps to include iodine-rich foods in each meal. Seafood is a great option, with everything from kelp to shellfish containing ample amounts of this chemical element. As with most medical conditions, your specific history is going to play a big part in whether you are at risk for a thyroid condition.

According to statistics, women are the most likely to develop goiters. Age can also have an impact, with people being more likely to have this issue when they reach the age of 40. Other risk factors include medications that impact the thyroid, exposure to radiation, and menopause.

10. Treatment Options for Goiters

The best way to treat a goiter is by consulting with your primary care physician. Since goiters can come about from a variety of circumstances, it is crucial to understand the origin before assuming you know how to treat the condition. Surgery is a possibility in some cases, but a surgeon must deem you to be a good candidate for the procedure. Iodine treatments are another common way to handle the condition, with the iodine being delivered in a radioactive way that makes the element more available for the body to absorb and utilize.

An enlarged thyroid is not a condition to ignore. When you or someone you care about experiences sudden swelling in the throat that might be a goiter, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor and discuss the possible treatment options available.


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