A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland. The thyroid gland, located in the front of your neck, makes thyroid hormones. When your thyroid gland is enlarged, it can produce too much, too little, or just enough thyroid hormone. The most common cause of goiter outside of the United States is a lack of iodine in the diet. Iodine is a substance in food (iodized salt and seafood) that the thyroid uses to make thyroid hormones. However, a lack of iodine is not common in the United States because iodine is added to salt and many foods.
Thyroid hormones travel from your thyroid gland through the blood to all parts of your body. They control how your body uses food for energy, and help all your organs work well. Thyroid hormones affect your metabolism rate, which means how fast or slow your brain, heart, muscles, liver, and other parts of your body work.
If your metabolism is too fast or too slow, you won't feel well. For example, if you don't have enough thyroid hormone and your metabolism slows down, you might feel tired and cold. If you have too much thyroid hormone, you might feel nervous and warm.
You can have a goiter but have no symptoms at all, other than having some swelling at the base of your neck. Some people also may have:
In the United States, the most common causes of swelling are:
Less common causes include a hormone made during pregnancy that increases thyroid hormone production, inflammation of the thyroid, or thyroid cancer. A goiter also can be present in a newborn if his or her thyroid gland doesn't work properly before birth.
Risk factors include:
A goiter is often found during a physical exam when your doctor feels swelling in your neck. Your doctor also may use other tests to find the cause of the goiter and to see how advanced it is, such as:
Treatment depends on the cause of the goiter, its size, and your symptoms. If your goiter is small and your thyroid is making normal amounts of thyroid hormone, your doctor might observe the goiter over time instead of starting treatment right away.
The Hormone Health Network is the public education affiliate of the Endocrine Society dedicated to helping both patients and doctors find information on the prevention, treatment and cure of hormone-related conditions.
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