A goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that regulate metabolism, growth, and development.
There are many different causes of goiters, including:
- Iodine deficiency: Iodine is a mineral that is essential for the production of thyroid hormones. If you do not get enough iodine in your diet, your thyroid gland may enlarge in an attempt to make more thyroid hormone. Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of goiters worldwide, but it is rare in developed countries where iodized salt is widely used.
- Hashimoto’s disease: Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack the thyroid gland. This can lead to inflammation and enlargement of the thyroid gland.
- Graves’ disease: Graves’ disease is another autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid gland. Graves’ disease causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone. This can also lead to enlargement of the thyroid gland.
- Thyroid nodules: Thyroid nodules are growths that can form on the thyroid gland. These nodules can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
- Thyroid cancer: Thyroid cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer that can cause the thyroid gland to enlarge.
Other causes of goiters include:
- Pregnancy: The thyroid gland enlarges slightly during pregnancy to meet the increased demand for thyroid hormones.
- Certain medications: Some medications, such as lithium and amiodarone, can cause goiters.
- Inflammation: Inflammation of the thyroid gland can be caused by infections, such as subacute thyroiditis and chronic thyroiditis.
Goiters can range in size from small and barely noticeable to large and unsightly. Some goiters do not cause any symptoms, while others can cause difficulty breathing, swallowing, or speaking.
Treatment for goiter depends on the underlying cause. If the goiter is caused by iodine deficiency, treatment may involve taking iodine supplements or eating iodized salt. If the goiter is caused by Hashimoto’s disease or Graves’ disease, treatment may involve taking medication to regulate thyroid hormone levels. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the goiter or part of the thyroid gland.
If you have a goiter, it is important to see a doctor to determine the cause and get the appropriate treatment.