Thyroid NodulesThyroid nodules are abnormal growths of thyroid cells, with a small percentage of those being cancerous. The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck that releases hormones that regulate body temperature, weight, energy levels and more. Thyroid nodules form when there is an unusual growth of thyroid cells within this gland. While most thyroid nodules are benign, a small percentage can be cancerous.
What Causes Thyroid Nodules?
It’s not yet known why some people develop thyroid nodules, although this condition is incredibly common. The American Thyroid Association estimates that one-half of people will develop a thyroid nodule by age 60.
Specific conditions may increase the risk of nodules, such as having:
- Thyroid adenoma – an overgrowth of normal thyroid tissue
- Thyroid cysts – most commonly result from degenerating thyroid adenomas
- Hashimoto’s disease – causes chronic thyroid inflammation and can lead to thyroid nodules
- A multinodular goiter – an enlarged thyroid that has multiple nodules, often caused by an iodine deficiency or thyroid disorder
- Thyroid cancer – very rare, occurring in only 5% of thyroid nodule cases
What Are the Symptoms of Thyroid Nodules?
Most thyroid nodules don’t cause noticeable symptoms. In certain instances, a nodule may grow large enough to press on your windpipe or esophagus, leading to difficulty swallowing and shortness of breath. Some people may develop hyperthyroidism as a result of a thyroid nodule, which is a condition characterized by an overproduction of thyroid hormones. It can cause:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Flushed skin
- Increased irritability or nervousness
- Excessive sweating
- A rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Unexplained weight loss
How Are Thyroid Nodules Diagnosed?
A thyroid nodule can sometimes be diagnosed during a physical exam, especially if the nodule is large enough to be seen or felt through the skin. If your doctor suspects you have a thyroid nodule, he or she will order one or more of the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:
- Fine-needle aspiration biopsy
- Thyroid hormone level test
- Thyroid scan
- Thyroid ultrasound
How Are Thyroid Nodules Treated?
Treatment for thyroid nodules may involve:
- Watchful waiting – If the thyroid nodule is small and not causing noticeable symptoms, a watchful waiting approach may be recommended.
- Thyroid hormone therapy – If your thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones, you may be eligible for this treatment.
- Medication – Anti-thyroid medication and radioactive iodine can treat thyroid nodules causing hyperthyroidism.
- Surgery – For cancerous thyroid nodules and benign nodules causing symptoms that aren’t improving with conservative treatment, surgery such as a thyroidectomy may be an appropriate course of action.