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Goiter Explained

What Is Goiter?


The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland situated at the bottom of the neck just beneath the Adam's apple. At times, this gland can grow larger than its normal size. When this happens it is referred to as a goiter. Generally speaking, goiters are more or less painless. However a particularly large one can make it a challenge to breathe or swallow.

Goiters are commonly associated with a lack of iodine. In fact, this is actually the common cause of the unusual thyroid growth. In the U.S., goiters tend to be attributed to the under or over production of thyroid hormone. Another cause may be nodules that develop in the gland itself. Currently very little is known as to why thyroid nodules develop in people but a number of them can lead to goiter or multinodular goiter.

Treatment options depend on the size of the growth, the symptoms and underlying cause. Small sized goiters may not need treatment but this will vary case by case.


Goiters will not always show signs or symptoms but when they do, they include:

  • Large and noticeable swelling at the base of neck
  • Difficulty in swallowing or breathing
  • Coughing or hoarseness
  • Tightness in your throat

Risk Factors

No one is really exempt from developing goiters. Sometimes people are born with them but they can occur at anytime. Statistically speaking, they are more commonly seen after the age of 50. Here are some risk factors:

  • A lack of dietary iodine. Insufficient iodine in the diet can lead to its development.

  • Your sex. Studies show that women are more likely to develop a thyroid disorder. Therefore, they are more at risk for developing a goiter.

  • Your age. Persons over 50 are generally at a higher risk.

  • Medical history. If anyone in your family has a history of thyroid disease, goiter or dysfunction of the immune system, then that will increase your risk.

  • Pregnancy and menopause. It has been shown that thyroid dysfunction is most likely to occur after pregnancy or menopause.

  • Certain medications. It has been shown that immunosuppressants, antiretrovirals, amiodarone and lithium can increase your risk.

  • Radiation exposure. If you've had radiation treatments to your neck or chest area as a child or live near a nuclear facility where an accident has occurred, then you may also be at risk.


Small goiters are not as much of a concern as large ones. Large goiters make it a challenge to swallow or breathe. They also cause coughing and hoarseness. There are associated symptoms such as fatigue, inexplicable weight loss or insomnia.

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