When the thyroid gland becomes enlarged, it’s called thyromegaly. The most common cause of this condition is goiter.
Goiter causes the thyroid gland to enlarge. Typically, it’s easy to spot since the thyroid is located just below the Adam’s apple.
In this article, we’ll talk about the causes of thyromegaly, the risk factors, and finally, potential treatment options.
Function of the Thyroid Gland
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located just below the Adam’s apple.
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably had a doctor palpate around your throat. Why did they do this?
To check your thyroid gland for lumps or other irregularities (like enlargement). The thyroid gland produces several hormones that help regulate metabolism in the body.
What is Thyromegaly?
Thyromegaly happens whenever the thyroid hormone becomes enlarged. As previously mentioned, it’s usually the result of goiter.
According to the American Thyroid Association, the main cause of goiter is iodine deficiency.
When you don’t consume enough iodine for extended periods of time, it can lead to this condition. That’s because your thyroid gland needs iodine to function.
In the United States alone, there are more than 200,000 cases of goiter per year. The reason why thyromegaly is so common is because people aren’t getting enough iodine in their diet.
How is Thyromegaly Diagnosed?
Most doctors are experienced enough to recognize goiter just by feeling around your neck. To confirm their diagnosis, they may also perform the following tests:
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound is a noninvasive diagnostic procedure for looking inside the body.
- T3 Test: A test that measures the amount of triiodothyronine (T3) in your blood.
- T4 Test: A test that measures the amount of thyroxine (T4) in your blood.
- TSH Test: A test that measures the amount of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in your blood.
By checking your thyroid levels, your doctor will have an easier time diagnosing you.
In most cases, your primary doctor will refer to you an endocrinologist (a specialist of the endocrine system).
There’s no shortage for endocrinology jobs. It’s estimated that about 250 million people in the world suffer from a thyroid issue.
Thyromegaly Risk Factors
Who’s most likely to get goiter in their lifetime? According to experts, the major risk factors include:
- Being a woman
- Being over the age of 40
- Taking medications that are high in lithium or cobalt
- Having a genetic predisposition
- Not consuming enough dietary iodine (most common cause)
- Exposure to radioactive substances
Certain infections have also been known to indirectly lead to goiter. If your parents had goiter despite being healthy, then there’s a higher chance you’ll develop it as well.
Remember, these are only risk factors. They don’t guarantee that you’ll get the condition.
Having one or more of these risk factors simply increases you risk of developing it. This applies to risk factors for any disease.
Symptoms That May Accompany Thyromegaly
As the thyroid enlarges in size, it can lead to other symptoms. For example, a patient may begin to experience a stiffness around their throat.
This is caused by surrounding tissue getting compressed as the thyroid grows. A patient might also experience coughing or changes in voice.
The changes in voice will usually happen gradually. Thyromegaly may become more noticeable as the thyroid grows increasingly large.
In the early stages, you might not even know that you have it. Finally, patients may choke when swallowing food due to their esophagus becoming constricted.
If your symptom is caused by an iodine deficiency, then the best treatment will be to get more iodine. A great source of iodine is iodized salt.
As little as a teaspoon per day is enough to meet your daily requirements. Once you begin supplementing with iodine, don’t expect your thyromegaly to go away overnight.
It can take months or even years to fully recover. Here are some other treatment options for an enlarged thyroid gland:
- Replacement of Thyroid Hormone: This treatment option is reserved for patients who have either very high or very low levels of thyroid hormone.
- Levothyroxine Suppressive Therapy (LST): Although this treatment is relatively time-consuming, it’s also very effective at treating this symptom.
- Ethanol Infusion: This is an effective treatment option that used in patients who have thyromegaly that isn’t due to cancer.
- Medications: There are certain medications that can reduce the size of your thyroid. A common one is methimazole.
If you notice a large lump around your throat, and you think it might be your thyroid, then see a doctor.
They’ll be able to determine if it is, in fact, goiter. The good news is that there are many treatment options for people with this condition.
If it’s due to something simple, like an iodine deficiency, then all you’ll need to do is supplement to make your symptoms go away.
In rare cases, it might be due to something like cancer, in which case, a more complex treatment plan will be required.