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Thyroid Disorders:

Thyroid Disorders and their Causes

Thyroid Disorders - Goiter

What is a goiter?

A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland.   A normal gland weighing ~1/2 oz can increase up to ~2 pounds. The whole gland can enlarge (called diffuse goiter) or there can be one or more small nodules. Enlargement is not due to physical inflammation, but is a thick tissue growth caused by the presence of chronic or agressive thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH); this may occur for a variety of reasons, including, for example,  iodine deficiency, pregnancy, inflammatory thyroid damage or having diagnosed (or undiagnosed) Hashimoto's thyroiditis.

Most nodules (lumps) are cysts filled with fluid, called cystic nodules); nodules can also contain the stored form of thyroid hormones, collectively called colloid; solid nodules have minimal fluid or colloid.


A goiter can be associated with:

•  Hyperthroidism / An overactive thyroid  / Excessive thyroid hormones

•  Hypothroidism /An underactive thyroid  /  Insufficient thyroid hormones

•  Normal thyroid hormone levels

Physical characteristics of a goiter can be:

•  Symmetrical  or Nodules or enlargement are in just one part of the gland

•  Diffuse (spread out, generalized, smooth, as in Grave's disease) or solitary (if only a small area is enlarged; commonly benign cysts, nodules)

•  Nodules are benign or malignant (cells in nodule have the ability to spread outside the thyroid gland)


Non-toxic, toxic or endemic goiter?

Non-toxic Goiter

•  Diffuse (spread out) or Nodular (i.e. lumps; 1 = solitary thyroid nodule / more than 1 = multinodular goiter)

•  Thyroid hormone production is normal

•  Non-cancerous

•  Not associated with Hyperthroidism,  Hypothroidism, or inflammation


•  Diffuse Toxic Goiter (a.k.a. Graves Disease or exophthalmic goiter)  (involves autoimmune-antibodies / auto-antibodies)   /  Toxic Nodular Goiter (not an autoimmune disease);

•   Excessive secretion of thyroid hormones;

•  Causes signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism;

Endemic Goiter (Goitrous hyperthyroidism)

•  Inability to make sufficient hormones;

•  Associated with Hypothroidism


A goiter is seen as a swelling at the front base of the neck

The enlarged thryroid compresses the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus.    This can lead to such symptoms as:

• Coughing;

• Waking up with the feeling of being unable to breathe;

• Sensation of food stuck in upper throat


A goiter could occur as a result of:

•   Inadequate iodide levels.   This being the most common cause of goiter worldwide, particularly prevalent in areas of iodine-deficient soil; referred to as ENDEMIC goiter.

•   Hashimoto's Thyroiditis.    An autoimmune thyroiditis; anti-thyroid antibodies attack thyroid causing damage/inflammation leading to hypothyroidism

•   Ord's thyroiditis.    Seen particularly in Europe; an atrophic form of autoimmune thyroiditis;

•    Increase in thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).   This is in response to a problem with usual/normal thyroid hormone production;   

•   Malfunctioning/damaged/ inflamed thyroid.   Damage possibly results from insufficient  iodine intake;

•   Excessive presence of goitrogens.   These can block thyroid access to iodine needed for TH production and create unused thyroglobulin (Tg);

•   Hypothyroidism.    Since low hormone levels stimulate TH production;

•    Some drugs.    Lithium inhibits release of TH; amiodarone may induce inflammatory damage to thyroid;

•   Thyroid Cancers / Benign tumors (nodules).   May cause a multinodular goiter (solid or fluid-filled lumps, called nodules);

•    Pregnancy.   The pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) may cause slight thyroid enlargement;

•    Graves Disease / Diffuse Toxic goiter.   Autoimmune disease stimulates thyroid to be overactive;

•    Too much iodine ???;  Currently researching this.

Risk Factors

Anyone from birth onwards can have goiters.   Some common risk factors are:

•    A lack of iodine

•    Being female / Pregnancy / Menopause

•    Age > 40

•    Family history of autoimmune disease

•    Radiation exposure.    Medical radiation to neck/chest area or general exposure from nuclear sources

•    Certain medications.    The heart drug amiodarone (e.g. Pacerone, Cordarone), lithium (e.g. Lithobid)



Marine D, Kimball BS. (1917) The prevention of simple goiter in man. J Lab Clin Med; 3:40-48.

Marine D. (1923) Prevention and treatment of simple goiter.  Atl Med J; 26:437-442.



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