Thyroid Nodules

What are Thyroid Nodules?

Thyroid nodules form in the thyroid, a gland just above the breastbone at the base of the neck.

They are lumps that can be solid or filled with fluid. There are usually not many (if any) symptoms and are generally not serious. They can, on rare occasions, be cancerous.

They are usually discovered during a routine medical exam but if they are large enough they can make it hard to breathe or swallow and can become visible.

What are the Symptoms of Thyroid Nodules?

Generally, thyroid symptoms do not have symptoms but if they grow large they can be seen, sometimes as a swelling on the neck.  Bigger nodules can also cause difficulty swallowing or breathing if they press against the esophagus or the windpipe.

Some thyroid nodules produce more of the hormone that is secreted by the thyroid gland, thyroxine.  This can cause symptoms that are the same as hyperthyroidism and can include weight loss, nervousness, tremors, irregular heartbeat, and intolerance to heat.

Occasionally, thyroid nodules can be cancerous but that doesn’t cause them to have any additional symptoms.

Cause of Thyroid Nodules

The primary cause is family history. If your parents experienced thyroid nodules, the chances of you or your children experiencing this abnormal growth increases. In some circumstances, the nodules hide inside of the thyroid gland, but they acknowledge their presence when breathing or swallowing becomes difficult.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, known as hypothyroidism, is the most common cause of thyroid nodules and found in all ages. It’s an autoimmune disorder, triggering immune cells to attack healthy tissue. The condition prevents the thyroid from generating enough hormones for the body to fight against the intruder.

Exposure to environmental radiation in soils or chemicals and medical radiation treatments raises the risks for thyroid nodules. Although most nodules are benign, they could be the early stages of a more serious thyroid condition.

As we age, thyroid nodules are more common. Our body goes through a great deal to reach maturity and deficiencies of the necessary nutrients from a well-balanced diet increase the risk related to thyroid nodules. At the age of 60, at least one nodule exists.

How are Thyroid Nodules Treated?

Thyroid nodule treatment will depend on what kind of nodules you have. If they are benign (non-cancerous) your doctor may take a watch and wait type of treatment that includes having physical exams more regularly and a biopsy or two.

If the thyroid is producing more TSH (the hormone that causes thyroid tissue to grow), levothyroxine may be prescribed. If the thyroid nodule gets too big and causes problems with swallowing and breathing, it may be removed surgically.

If the thyroid nodule causes hyperthyroidism, your doctor may recommend a treatment of radioactive iodine, either in liquid or capsule form.  This causes the nodule to shrink within 2-3 months. Anti-thyroid medications, like methimazole, can reduce the symptoms of hyperthyroidism, but it can have side effects on your liver. Surgery can also be an option.

Cancerous thyroid nodules are removed with surgery. The majority, if not all, of the thyroid will be removed. If a thyroidectomy is performed, you will need to be treated with levothyroxine to replace the hormone that your thyroid produced and this treatment will continue for the rest of your lifespan.

Prevention of Thyroid Nodules

A physical examination determines the number of nodules present in and around the gland, followed with blood testing to ensure the thyroid is functioning properly. Monitoring the nodules regularly is essential. Your doctor needs to know about any changes in size or shape.

According to the medical field, little prevention exists for this condition, but there are effective treatments to observe and control the growth of thyroid nodules. Medications help overactive thyroid nodules, preventing serious thyroid conditions associated with the gland disorder.

Previous generations, current patient information and early childhood experiences are preventive measures of thyroid nodules. Your doctor may recommend a healthy iodine diet or a supplement to keep the thyroid hormone production balanced, preventing nodules. A good diet may also help to repair minor damages from radiation medical treatments.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 11, 2017
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