Thyroid Nodules – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What are thyroid nodules?
A thyroid nodule is an abnormal growth or lump in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located at the front of the neck, just above where your collarbones meet in the middle. A thyroid nodule can be a solid or fluid-filled lump.
Thyroid nodules are more common in women than in men. A person’s chance of getting a thyroid nodule increases with age.
What causes thyroid nodules?
Many conditions can cause thyroid nodules. Sometimes, doctors cannot find the exact cause of thyroid nodules.
The following are the possible causes of thyroid nodules:
- Thyroid tissue overgrowth
- Thyroid Cyst
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid)
- Multi-nodular goiter
- Iodine deficiency
- Thyroid cancer
Thyroid nodules are abnormal growths or lumps in the thyroid gland. These growths can be:
- Benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous)
- Solid or fluid-filled
- One nodule or a group of small nodules
- Hot nodules (produces thyroid hormones)
- Hot nodules (does not produce thyroid hormones)
Only a few thyroid nodules are caused due to thyroid cancer. A thyroid nodule is more likely to be cancer if you have:
- A hard nodule
- A nodule that is stuck to nearby structures
- A family history of thyroid cancer
- A history of radiation exposure to the head or neck
- Noticed a change in your voice
What are the symptoms of thyroid nodules?
Most of the thyroid nodules don’t cause symptoms. Large nodules can press against nearby structures in the neck. This can cause the following symptoms:
- Pain in the neck
- Hoarseness or changing voice
- Problems swallowing food
- Enlarged thyroid gland
- Trouble in breathing, especially when lying down flat
Hormone-producing thyroid nodules may lead to overactive thyroid gland. This can cause following symptoms:
- Fast pulse
- Increased appetite
- Warm, sweaty skin
- Weight loss
- Skin blushing or flushing
- Irregular menstrual periods
Older people with hormone-producing nodules may have the following vague symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Memory loss
Sometimes, people with Hashimoto’s disease can have thyroid nodules. These people may have the following symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland:
- Face swelling
- Feeling cold when other people do not
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Irregular menstrual periods
How are thyroid nodules diagnosed?
Mostly, doctors find thyroid nodules during a routine physical exam or imaging tests that are done for another purpose. Some people with large thyroid nodules notice them on their own and report it to their doctor. The doctor will examine and review the symptoms if there are any.
The doctor may order the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:
- Thyroid ultrasound
- Thyroid scan (nuclear medicine)
- TSH level and other thyroid blood tests
- Fine needle aspiration biopsy of the nodule or nodules
How are thyroid nodules treated?
The doctor may recommend surgery for partial or total removal of the thyroid gland if the nodule is:
- Due to thyroid cancer
- Causing symptoms such as swallowing or breathing problems
- Producing too much thyroid hormone
The doctor may also recommend radioactive iodine therapy for people with nodules that are producing excessive thyroid hormone. This can reduce the size and activity of the nodule.
Both surgical removal of thyroid gland tissue and radioactive iodine treatment can cause lifelong hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). This condition requires thyroid hormone replacement therapy.
The doctor may recommend regular follow-up with a physical exam and ultrasound for people with noncancerous nodules that do not cause symptoms and are not growing. A thyroid biopsy every 6 to 12 months may be recommended if the nodule has grown.
The doctor may also recommend ethanol (alcohol) injection into the nodule to shrink noncancerous thyroid nodules.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.