Complete care for goiter and other thyroid disorders is available at Tampa General Hospital’s world-renowned Parathyroid & Thyroid Institute. A goiter refers to an enlarged thyroid—the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck that secretes hormones and helps regulate key bodily functions like metabolism, heart rate and digestion. The thyroid itself may become bigger or a large nodule may form within the thyroid, resulting in a bulge in the neck just below the Adam’s apple.
What Causes a Goiter?
There are several factors that can lead to thyroid enlargement:
- Hyperthyroidism (Graves’ disease)
- Thyroid inflammation (thyroiditis)
- An autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Thyroid nodules
- Iodine deficiency
- Thyroid cancer
A goiter can affect anyone, but it’s most common in women older than 40. Being obese and having insulin resistance or a family history of thyroid disease can increase the risk of developing a goiter.
Does a Goiter Cause Symptoms?
The most obvious sign of a goiter is a lump at the base of the neck. Goiters can vary in size from hardly noticeable to extremely large. While some people with thyroid enlargement don’t experience any symptoms, it’s possible for a goiter to cause:
- A tight sensation in the neck area
- Pain around the goiter
- Changes in voice
- Swelling of neck veins
- Dizziness when raising an arm above the head
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble swallowing
- Difficulty swallowing
A goiter may also occur alongside hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). These conditions can spur a wide range of symptoms, from weight gain to mood changes, and require professional medical treatment.
How is a Goiter Diagnosed?
Goiters are often spotted by medical professionals during routine exams or when treating other conditions. If a goiter is suspected, one or more of the following tests may be performed to measure the thyroid, detect nodules and rule out cancer:
- Blood tests that assess thyroid function and screen for antibodies related to Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Imaging procedures such as ultrasonography to view computerized images of the thyroid gland
- Fine-needle biopsy to draw out a small amount of cells for testing under a microscope
What Does Goiter Treatment Involve?
Goiter treatment will depend on what’s causing the thyroid to become enlarged. While some goiters go away on their own without medical intervention, surgery may be recommended to remove nodules, a portion of the thyroid or the entire gland. In other cases, medication to address hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism can resolve a goiter.
TGH’s Parathyroid & Thyroid Institute is home to uniquely experienced thyroid surgeons, Dr. Douglas Politz and Dr. José Lopez, who treat goiters and related disorders using progressive therapies and advanced, minimally invasive surgical techniques.