Goiter Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland. The thyroid is the gland in front of the neck just below the area of the Adam's apple. This butterfly-shaped gland plays a critical role in regulating the metabolic processes of the body by producing thyroid hormone. Heart rate, blood pressure, growth, and breathing are examples of the many processes that depend upon thyroid hormone from the thyroid gland. When the gland becomes enlarged due to diseases or tumors, the gland is referred to as a goiter.

A goiter can develop as a result of numerous different conditions. It can be associated with over-function of the thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism, or excessive thyroid hormones) or with under-function of the gland (hypothyroidism, or inadequate levels of thyroid hormones). Also, some goiters are associated with normal levels of thyroid hormones. Both inflammation and tumors can cause thyroid enlargement. Sometimes, the entire gland may be enlarged in a symmetrical pattern, while in other goiters, nodules, or enlargement may develop in one part of the gland only.

When a goiter becomes very large, it can sometimes cause symptoms because it presses on adjacent structures such as the esophagus and trachea. Symptoms that can occur related to a large goiter include problems with swallowing, shortness of breath, hoarseness, and stridor (a wheezing sound that results from turbulent air flow in and out of the trachea).