A goiter (GOI-tur) is an abnormal enlargement of your thyroid gland. Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck just below your Adam's apple. Although goiters are usually painless, a large goiter can cause a cough and make it difficult for you to swallow or breathe.
The most common cause of goiters worldwide is a lack of iodine in the diet. In the United States, where the use of iodized salt is common, a goiter is more often due to the over- or underproduction of thyroid hormones or to nodules in the gland itself.
Treatment depends on the size of the goiter, your symptoms and the cause. Small goiters that aren't noticeable and don't cause problems usually don't need treatment.
Not all goiters cause signs and symptoms. When signs and symptoms do occur they may include:
- A swelling at the base of your neck that may be particularly obvious when you shave or put on makeup
- A tight feeling in your throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
Goiters can affect anyone. They may be present at birth and occur at any time throughout life. Some common risk factors for goiters include:
- A lack of dietary iodine. People living in areas where iodine is in short supply and who don't have access to iodine supplements are at high risk of goiters.
- Being female. Because women are more prone to thyroid disorders, they're also more likely to develop goiters.
- Your age. Goiters are more common after age 40.
- Medical history. A personal or family history of autoimmune disease increases your risk.
- Pregnancy and menopause. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, thyroid problems are more likely to occur during pregnancy and menopause.
- Certain medications. Some medical treatments, including the heart drug amiodarone (Pacerone, others) and the psychiatric drug lithium (Lithobid, others), increase your risk.
- Radiation exposure. Your risk increases if you've had radiation treatments to your neck or chest area or you've been exposed to radiation in a nuclear facility, test or accident.