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Thyroid Problems

Hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, lumps, and goiters, oh my!

By
Rob Lamberts, MD,
June 1, 2010
Episode #049

Page 1 of 4

This week’s article builds on last week’s about the function of the thyroid gland. If you haven’t already done so, please go back and read that before reading this. Today I am going to focus on what happens when things go wrong with the thyroid gland, spending most of my time discussing when it stops working. I’ll also discuss some of the issues around thyroid replacement medication.

There are four main problems the thyroid can have:

  1. It can get big

  2. It can have lumps

  3. It can put out too much hormone

  4. It can shut down

What Is an Enlarged Thyroid?

When the thyroid gland is enlarged, it gets the unfortunate name, “goiter.” I don’t like the word “goiter.” It joins “gout,” “shingles,” and “scabies” as those medical conditions with ugly names. If I had an enlarged thyroid, I’d hit whoever called it a goiter.

Since the thyroid gland is in the neck, an enlargement of the gland will cause neck swelling as its main symptom. If they get big enough, goiters can also make it difficult to breathe, and sometimes they even cause pain.

What Causes an Enlarged Thyroid?

The main cause of thyroid enlargement is inflammation, which is where white blood cells enter the gland and cause it to swell. The fancy word for an inflamed thyroid is thyroiditis. The other significant cause of thyroid enlargement is lack of iodine in the diet, which is one of the main reasons iodine is added to salt.

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