A goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid. The thyroid is a gland. It produces hormones that help regulate your body’s metabolism. It is located on the front of the neck, right below the Adam’s apple. Goiters are seldom painful. They tend to grow slowly.
There are different types of goiters. This sheet focuses on nontoxic goiter. It is a type of simple goiter that may be:
The development of nodules marks a progression of the goiter. It should be evaluated by your doctor.
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The exact causes of nontoxic goiter are not known. In general, goiters may be caused by too much or too little thyroid hormones. There is often normal thyroid function with a nontoxic goiter. Some possible causes of nontoxic goiter include:
Nontoxic goiter is more common in women and in people over age 40.
Other factors that may increase your chances of nontoxic goiter:
Nontoxic goiters usually do not have noticeable symptoms, unless they become very large. Symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may recommend a specialist. An endocrinologist focuses on hormone related issues.
Your body fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your body structures. This can be done with:
Nontoxic goiters usually grow very slowly. They may not cause any symptoms. In this case, they do not need treatment.
Treatment may be needed if the goiter grows rapidly, affects your neck, or obstructs your breathing.
If a nontoxic goiter progresses to the nodular stage, and the nodule is found to be cancerous, you will need treatment. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Thyroid hormone medication is used to suppress secretion of thyrotropin (TSH). TSH is the thyroid-stimulating hormone that causes growth. This therapy is most effective for early stage goiters that have grown due to impaired hormone production. It is less effective for goiters that have progressed to the nodular stage.
Radioactive iodine treatment is used to reduce the size of large goiter. It is used when surgical treatment is not an option.
Thyroidectomy is done to remove part or all of the thyroid gland. It is the treatment of choice if the goiter is so large that it makes it difficult to breathe or swallow.
To help reduce your chances of a nontoxic goiter, be sure that your diet contains enough iodine.
American Thyroid Association
Hormone Health Network—Endocrine Society
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Thyroid Foundation of Canada
Bonnema SJ, Bennedbek FN, Ladenson PW, Hegedus L. Management of the nontoxic multinodular goiter: a North American Survey. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002;87(1):112-117.
Bonnema SJ, Nielsen VE, Boel-Jorgensen H, et al. Improvement of goiter volume reduction after 0.3 mg recombinant human thyrotropin-stimulated radioiodine therapy in patients with a very large goiter: a double-blinded, randomized trail. J Clin Endo Metab. 2007;92(9):3424-3428.
Diehl LA, Garcia V, Bonnema SJ, et al. Management of the nontoxic multinodular goiter in Latin America: comparison with North America and Europe, an electronic survey. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005;90(1):117-123.
Freitas JE. Therapeutic options in the management of toxic and nontoxic nodular goiter. Seminars in Nuclear Medicine. 2000;30(2):88-97.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcie L. Sidman, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014