Thyroid nodules: Symptoms, causes, and diagnosis

Thyroid nodules are lumps that can appear in the thyroid gland in front of the throat. A thyroid nodule can feel like a bump on the side or in the middle of the throat.

Sometimes, people can identify them as a lump in the front of the neck, but often they cannot see or feel them.

The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones. These hormones have various functions. Organs need them to work properly, and the body needs them to create energy and warmth.

A nodule can develop for different reasons. It may be a cyst, a sign of iodine deficiency, or, in some cases, cancerous.

What are thyroid nodules?

checking the thyroid gland
Various problems can lead to thyroid nodules, which may feel like a lump in the throat.

Thyroid nodules are lumps that develop in or around the thyroid gland. A person may have one or more nodules. They are common, affecting an estimated 20 to 76 percent of adults in the United States.

Some nodules are easy to feel, but others may be deep in the thyroid tissue or low in the gland, making them hard to find or detect. In fact, only 4 to 7 percent of thyroid nodules are palpable.

There are different types and forms of nodule, including:

a thyroid cyst or nodule that is filled with fluid or blood

a benign nodule, as is usually the case, although some are cancerous

a nodule that secretes thyroid hormone, although others do not do this

If a nodule produces more thyroid hormone than the body needs, this can lead to complications.

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Symptoms

Often, a thyroid nodule has no signs or symptoms. When there are symptoms, these may depend on where the nodule is.

The thyroid gland sits in front of the throat, next to the windpipe and the food pipe. If a nodule presses on the windpipe or food pipe, the person may have:

a hoarse voice

a tickling feeling in the throat

breathing difficulties

problems with swallowing

choking sensation when lying flat

swollen lymph nodes

Rarely, a person may have pain at the site of the nodule that travels to the ear or jaw.

Causes

Thyroid nodules can happen for different reasons, as described here:

Iodine deficiency

Iodine is an essential part of the diet. Without it, the body cannot make enough thyroid hormone. When this happens, a goiter, or enlarged thyroid, can develop. Nodules may also form.

The American Thyroid Association recommend that people use iodized salt to prevent iodine deficiency.

Inflammation

Occasionally, a thyroid nodule happens because of an inflammation of the thyroid gland, known as subacute thyroiditis.

This condition is rare, but it can happen after a viral infection such as an upper respiratory virus, the flu, or mumps.

With subacute thyroiditis, the thyroid may be tender or painful, and it may feel bumpy.

Hyperthyroidism

Some thyroid nodules produce more of the hormone known as thyroxine. This is one of the hormones that the thyroid gland secretes.

Symptoms can include:

unintended weight loss

nervousness and tremor

fast or irregular heartbeat

intolerance to heat

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Scientists do not know why this happens.

Possible risk factors for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis include:

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