About 20 million Americans suffer from thyroid disease, which includes several conditions that affect the butterfly-shaped gland that wraps around the front of your neck. The term “goiter” describes one type of thyroid problem that happens when the thyroid gland is enlarged and usually visibly swollen.
While some smaller goiters cause no symptoms, larger goiters can interfere with swallowing and breathing. But no matter how large or small a goiter may be, it always needs to be medically evaluated so it can be treated and other possible causes of gland enlargement — like cancer — can be ruled out.
At Desert West Surgery in Las Vegas, Nevada, our team is skilled in thyroid surgery to treat some problematic goiters that can’t be managed with more conservative treatments, like medicine. In this post, our team offers a quick overview of goiters, including why they happen and how they’re managed.
Why goiters happen
Your thyroid gland produces hormones that play vital roles in your health and in the way your body functions. These hormones are important for:
- Managing your metabolism
- Regulating weight gain and weight loss
- Maintaining your body temperature
- Managing your energy levels
If you have a goiter, these functions can be disrupted, and you can wind up with more serious health problems unless the thyroid problem is addressed.
In much of the world, goiters are associated with low levels of iodine in the diet. In the United States, most of us receive ample iodine through iodized table salt used at home or in foods available in grocery stores. In this country, most people who develop a goiter have an underlying thyroid problem, including hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the gland is “overactive” and produces too many hormones, while hypothyroidism involves an “underactive” thyroid that doesn’t produce enough of the required hormones. Thyroid nodules — benign growth inside the gland — can also cause the thyroid gland to become enlarged.
For small, benign goiters that aren’t causing uncomfortable symptoms, we typically recommend frequent monitoring, combined with medication to help balance thyroid activity and hormone production. If a goiter is associated with hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, treating the underlying condition frequently reduces thyroid swelling.
Goiters that are uncomfortable or are causing problems with swallowing or breathing need to be treated surgically. The surgical procedure we recommend depends on the size of the goiter, how much of the thyroid gland is involved, your thyroid function, and other factors.
Thyroid lobectomy removes one side or lobe of the thyroid, sometimes along with additional tissue that connects the two lobes. A subtotal thyroidectomy removes all of one lobe, most of the second lobe, and the tissue connecting the lobes.
After thyroid surgery, you may need to take medication to ensure your body receives optimal levels of thyroid hormones.
Check up on your thyroid
Even though a goiter may not need to be treated surgically, it still needs medical management to prevent more serious problems with your thyroid gland and your overall health. To learn more about goiter and how thyroid surgery can play a role in managing it, call Desert West Surgery and schedule a visit at the Las Vegas location nearest you.