Managing An Enlarged Thyroid

Goiters, also referred to as enlarged thyroids, can occur for many unknown or straightforward reasons. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland beneath the Adam’s apple and produces hormones that regulate metabolism, body temperature, and growth and development. Goiter symptoms can range from a swelling in the neck to difficulty breathing and swallowing. Fortunately, a variety of treatment options exist for enlarged thyroids.

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Causes of goiter

Globally, goiters commonly occur due to an iodine deficiency, primarily in central Asian and African countries. Iodine is essential to produce the thyroid hormone. Goiters can also be caused by the formation of a benign nodule within the gland. Finally, goiters can be caused by autoimmune diseases, including Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s disease.

Getting a diagnosis

Doctors can employ several tests to determine the treatment options for a goiter. A physical exam is needed to examine the size of the goiter, the presence of nodules, and signs of tenderness. Doctors may also perform hormone and antibody tests to check for the right levels of both. An ultrasound, thyroid scan, CT scan, or MRI can also be used to get a more accurate representation of the goiter.

Watchful waiting approach

For small goiters, doctors may recommend a patient to closely monitor any goiter-related symptoms or an enlargement of the thyroid gland. Doctors may recommend a visit every 6-12 months to check the size of the thyroid and monitor levels of thyroxine, one of the hormones produced in the thyroid. Severe goiter cases, however, may require goiter surgery immediately.

Thyroid medication

Medication can be used to treat an underactive or overactive thyroid, as well as thyroid inflammation. Some hormone replacement drugs are commonly prescribed to patients with hypothyroidism. For inflammation-induced goiters, doctors may prescribe a corticosteroid medication or aspirin.

Radioactive iodine treatment

Radioactive iodine treatment is prescribed to patients with an overactive thyroid gland. Patients take radioactive iodine orally, which targets and kills cancer cells in the goiter. As a result, the radioactive treatment shrivels the goiter. Patients may also need to take thyroid hormone replacement therapy to manage hormone production.

Goiter surgery

Goiter surgery is a last-ditch effort to remove all or part of an enlarged thyroid gland. Surgery may be necessary if the thyroid disrupts normal swallowing or breathing or if cancer is present. Patients may also need to take thyroid hormone medication for a recommended amount of time to manage hormone production.

Finding the right treatment option

Goiter treatment depends on the size of the goiter, symptoms, and presence of cancerous cells. Many cases can be treated with hormone or anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the growth of the thyroid and nodules. In cases where a goiter growth is excessive or painful symptoms appear, surgery may be needed. Patients should consult with a doctor and consider all the risks and benefits of a goiter surgery to improve the quality of life.

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