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Thyroid Basics

Located at the base of the neck, the thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that affects all the major organs in the body. Comprised of two glands the size of a plum, the thyroid produces the thyroxine and triiodothyronine hormones. These hormones contain iodine atoms that get secreted into the body’s bloodstream via the thyroid. Both hormones influence cell activity by controlling cell metabolism. Therefore, any imbalances within the gland lead to health conditions.

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism

An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is caused by a lack of thyroxine, while an overactive thyroid, hyperthyroidism, is the result of too much thyroxine. Of the two conditions, hypothyroidism is the most common and a contributing factor to the development of goiters.

Does hypothyroidism cause goiters?

Yes, hypothyroidism will make the body develop a goiter. Once the body realizes there isn’t enough iodine in the bloodstream, the pituitary gland starts signaling the body to produce thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH initiates the growth of the thyroid, leading to a goiter.

Other causes of goiters

Graves’ disease can also cause goiters. With Graves’ disease, an autoimmune thyroid disease, the body attacks thyroid cells and produces more TSH. Goiters can also form if nodules develop on the thyroid gland, the thyroid becomes inflamed, also called thyroiditis, or someone has thyroid cancer, pregnancy, or Hashimoto’s disease. Hashimoto’s disease is similar to Graves’ disease, but this disease damages the thyroid preventing thyroxine production.

Who is at risk for developing goiters?

Risk factors give healthcare providers insight into the likeliness that a patient will develop goiters. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Gender: females are more likely to develop goiters because women tend to suffer from thyroid issues at a higher rate than men.
  • Age: people over 40 develop goiters more than other age groups
  • Iodine deficiency
  • A family history of autoimmune diseases
  • Pregnancy
  • Amiodarone and Lithium drugs
  • Radiation treatments

Treatment options for goiters

Once doctors diagnose a patient with a goiter, usually during a physical examination, doctors discuss treatment options for the condition. For smaller goiters, doctors prescribe iodine or thyroid hormone supplements. Once supplements have been prescribed, doctors will monitor the size of the goiter. Surgery isn’t an option unless the goiter starts blocking the person’s airway. In these cases, the patient will have difficulty swallowing and breathing.

When to seek help

A patient should seek the help of a physician if the patient experiences difficulty breathing, eating or swallowing, and notices abnormal growths around the neck area. Speak with a healthcare provider to learn more about thyroid disorders.