What is a goiter?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck. It produces thyroid hormone, which controls our bodies’ overall metabolism. Thyroid diseases, whether functional (hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism) or structural (nodule, goiter, cancer), are very common in both women and men.

Goiter refers to an enlarged thyroid gland. In some parts of the world goiters develop because of a lack of iodine in peoples’ diets. However, in the United States where iodine is added to foods, goiters are most often caused by other problems. A single or multiple nodules, Graves’ disease, and hyperthyroidism can all lead to the development of a goiter.

As goiters become bigger they can put pressure on the trachea (windpipe) or esophagus (food pipe), causing symptoms like difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing (particularly when lying down), a choking sensation or pressure in the neck. When patients start to experience symptoms, treatment is often offered. The exact type of treatment is based on the cause of the goiter and the patient’s preferences. In some cases thyroid surgery is the best treatment option.

© 2017  American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery

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