Nontoxic Nodular Goiter
(Sporadic Goiter; Simple Goiter; Nodular Enlargement of the Thyroid Gland)
DefinitionA 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 (or sporadic) goiter. It is a type of simple goiter that may be:
- Diffuse—enlarging the whole thyroid gland
- Nodular—enlargement caused by nodules, or lumps, on the thyroid
|Goiter (Enlargement of the Thyroid Gland)|
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CausesThe 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:
- Family history of goiters
- Regular use of medications such as lithium, propylthiouracil, phenylbutazone, or aminoglutethimide
- Taking a lot of substances (goitrogens) that inhibit production of thyroid hormone—common goitrogens include foods such as cabbage, turnips, Brussels sprouts, seaweed, and millet
- Iodine deficiency—Iodine deficiency is rare in the United States and other developed countries, due to the use of iodized table salt; this is a primary cause of goiter in other parts of the world, particularly in mountainous areas, or areas that experience heavy rainfall or flooding
Risk FactorsNontoxic goiter is more common in women and in people over age 40.The following factors increase your chance of developing nontoxic goiter:
- A diet low in iodine
- Family history of goiter
- History of radiation therapy to head or neck, especially during childhood
SymptomsNontoxic goiters usually do not have noticeable symptoms, unless they become very large. Symptoms may include:
- Swelling of the neck
- Breathing difficulties, coughing, or wheezing with large goiter
- Difficulty swallowing with large goiter
- Feeling of pressure on the neck
DiagnosisYou 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:
- Blood tests
- Fine needle aspiration biopsy
TreatmentNontoxic 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:
Hormone Suppression TherapyThyroid 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 IodineRadioactive iodine treatment is used to reduce the size of large goiter. It is used in the elderly when surgical treatment is not an option.
PreventionBe sure that your diet contains enough iodine.
The American Thyroid Association
The Hormone Foundation
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Thyroid Foundation of Canada
Bonnema SJ, Bennedbek FN, et al. Management of the nontoxic multinodular goiter: a North American Survey. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002;87:112-117.
Bonnema SJ, Nielsen VE, 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;92:3424-3428.
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;90:117-123.
Freitas JE. Therapeutic options in the management of toxic and nontoxic nodular goiter. Seminars in Nuclear Medicine. 2000;30:88-97.
Hurley DL, Gharib H. Evaluation and management of multinodular goiter. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 1996;29:527-540.
- Reviewer: Kim A. Carmichael, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 12/2014
- Update Date: 12/20/2014
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