The thyroid is a gland located in the neck, just below the Adam's apple. Hormones produced by the thyroid regulate metabolism, influence heart rate and control body temperature, among other things. As a result of certain disorders, the thyroid can become enlarged. This is known as goiter. It is quite common, particularly in women and the elderly.
Goiter was quite widespread until recently. An iodine deficiency was found to be responsible for its high incidence. Iodine is an element required by the thyroid that must be absorbed through food. In North America, the problem was resolved by adding iodine to table salt. That being said, iodized salt prevents deficiencies and reduces the risk of developing goiter. Elsewhere in the world however, particularly in developing countries, the problem remains. There are several other factors that can also give rise to goiter. It can develop as a result of something as simple as a hormone imbalance or a disease:
The intensity of symptoms may vary among individuals. The first symptom is the enlargement of the thyroid gland resulting in swelling of the neck. If the size of the thyroid gland increases substantially, the goiter can make it difficult to swallow, breathe and cough. Symptoms of the disease responsible for causing the goiter will also be present.
It is important for you to see your doctor if there is swelling at the front of the neck. He will be able to determine whether it is related to a thyroid problem and identify the cause of the inflammation. The physician will begin by examining the neck to assess the degree of swelling and whether there are any sensitive areas. Then, blood tests may be ordered to measure hormone levels and to see if any antibodies are present. By the same token, a medical imaging test may be requested to take a closer look at the thyroid.
Treatment differs based on the amount of swelling, symptoms and cause. If the goiter is mild, the doctor may choose to do nothing but monitor its growth for the time being. If you have hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, hormonal drugs may prove effective. Anti-inflammatories (ex. Aspirin®, Advil®) may be prescribed to reduce swelling. In more severe cases, surgery may be a good option. Surgery involves removing part or all of the thyroid. This option is mainly recommended when cancer is present or if the goiter is very large. Another effective treatment option is radioactive iodine. This treatment is mostly used by those with hyperthyroidism. Taking thyroid hormones is generally required after these types of interventions.
For more information or support:
The Thyroid Foundation of Canada