Why thyroid gland enlarged?

The most common cause of goiter worldwide is a lack of iodine in the diet. In the United States, where the use of iodized salt is common, goiter is caused by conditions that alter thyroid function or by factors that affect thyroid growth. Goiter is a condition in which the thyroid gland enlarges. The entire thyroid may grow larger or it may develop one or more small lumps called thyroid nodules.

Goiter is used to describe any enlargement of the thyroid gland. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland found in the neck. The term “goiter” simply refers to abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland. It's important to know that the presence of goiter doesn't necessarily mean that the thyroid gland is malfunctioning.

Goiter can occur in a gland that produces too much hormone (hyperthyroidism), too little hormone (hypothyroidism), or the right amount of hormone (euthyroidism). A goiter indicates that a condition is present that causes the thyroid to grow abnormally. Goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. It's the gland in the front of your neck, just below the Adam's apple.

Although the goiter can get smaller, sometimes there is too much scar tissue in the gland to allow it to get much smaller. Or it could be a symptom of another, possibly serious, thyroid condition that requires medical attention. Goiter is an adaptive reaction of thyroid cells to any process that blocks thyroid hormone production. Goiter may be associated with an irregular amount of thyroid hormone in the body (hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism) or with normal levels of thyroid hormone (euthyroidism).

For example, a toxic multinodular goiter occurs when there is more than one node in the thyroid, usually several that produce an additional amount of thyroid hormone. Some of them are due to genetic defects, others are related to thyroid injuries or infections, and others are due to tumors (both cancerous and benign). A non-toxic goiter doesn't cause hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism (there isn't enough thyroid hormone). If goiter is a sign of another thyroid disease, such as Graves' disease or Hashimoto's disease, the prognosis depends on the underlying cause of the thyroid enlargement.

Your healthcare provider usually diagnoses goiter when they perform a physical exam and they feel that you have an enlarged thyroid. This is an autoimmune condition in which the thyroid gland is destroyed by the immune system itself. Many goiters, such as multinodular goiter, are associated with normal levels of thyroid hormone in the blood. Goiter can be classified in a number of different ways, including how it grows and whether or not your thyroid hormone levels are irregular.

If the thyroid continues to enlarge, it can compress surrounding structures and cause difficulty breathing and swallowing and hoarseness. If your thyroid is diffusely enlarged and you have hyperthyroidism, your doctor will likely perform tests to help diagnose Graves' disease (see the Graves disease leaflet). People with this disorder have one or more nodules inside the gland that cause an enlarged thyroid.

Greta Rulnick
Greta Rulnick

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