Goiter is the swelling of a small butterfly shaped gland in the neck immediately in front of the trachea (windpipe) which produces the thyroid hormones. The function of these hormones is to help in regulating the body’s metabolism. Generally the thyroid gland is not noticeable. However sometimes it may swell abnormally to form a lump in the throat. This condition is known as Goiter.
The symptoms are a mild to severe swelling of the glands. The size of Goiter can vary and be large or small, and painless with no other visible symptoms. In some cases of severe condition swelling may increase so drastically that it ends up affecting the breathing and swallowing process.
Other associate symptoms may include coughing, a tight feeling in the throat, hoarseness and changes in voice.
There are two types of Goiter-
Diffuse goiter- is a type which the whole thyroid gland swells and is smooth to touch.
Nodular goiter- here certain sections or ‘nodules’ of thyroid gland swell and feel lumpy to touch.
There are numerous causes for Goiter. They are:
- A lack of iodine in the diet. Excessive intake of iodine too can cause goiter.
- An under-active thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
- An over-active thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
- Smoking- Thiocynate- a chemical in tobacco smoke adversely interferes with the usage of iodine by the body.
- Changes in hormonal levels occurring during puberty and pregnancy.
- Chemicals like lithium which can interfere with the functioning of thyroid glands.
- Infections caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi
- Exposure to radiation
- Non-cancerous growths
- Thyroid cancer
One needs to consult an endocrinologist in such cases.
Some forms of Goiter can be inherited. Certain evidences have pointed to this fact. However our knowledge of genes and genetic material is growing all the time and more precise information is likely to be available in the near future.
The treatment for goiter depends on the underlying cause. Usually a wait- and- see approach is recommended when the Goiter is not severe. Other possible treatments include dietary supplements, thyroid replacement, and in the most severe cases, invasive surgery.
Goiter may be present since birth and can affect anyone. They can occur anytime throughout life. People with a lack of dietary iodine are at a high risk of developing Goiter. Also it is seen that women are more prone to goiter than men. The chances of developing a goiter increases with age. Hereditary autoimmune disorders in the family history, and certain medical treatments increases one’s risk of developing Goiter.
The diagnosis of goiter is usually identified by a preliminary physical examination when there is enlargement of the thyroid gland. The presence of goiter in such cases indicates abnormality of the thyroid gland. Secondly Thyroid function tests are carried out to determine if your thyroid is ‘Hypo’ or ‘Hyper’. All subsequent tests will wait on these results. Other tests used for diagnosis may include thyroid ultrasound or a fine needle aspiration biopsy or a radioactive iodine scan.
The use of iodized table salt, including seafood like shrimp, shellfish, seaweeds which are rich source of iodine and preventing over-exposure to radiation: be it as a treatment or in a working environment are some of the preventive measures for Goiter.