Goiter: Causes, treatment, and symptoms

A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland that causes the neck to swell.

It is one of the most common thyroid disorders.

Goiters are often harmless but symptoms can occur, and treatment may be required depending on the size and type of goiter.

Fast facts on goiter

Here are some key points about goiter. More detail and supporting information is in the body of this article.

Goiter describes a condition where the thyroid gland, located in the neck, becomes enlarged.

In developed countries, goiter is usually caused by an autoimmune disease.

Goiter is usually diagnosed by physical examination, but thyroid function blood tests and scans may be used.

Treatment is not necessary unless the goiter is large and causes symptoms.

What is goiter?

Thyroid gland
The thyroid gland. An underactive gland can cause weight gain.

A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is situated in front of the windpipe and is responsible for producing and secreting hormones that regulate growth and metabolism.

Most cases are categorized as ‘simple’ goiters that do not involve inflammation or any detriment to thyroid function, produce no symptoms, and often have no obvious cause.

Some people experience a small amount of swelling. Others can have considerable swelling that constricts the trachea and causes breathing problems.

Deficiency of iodine – found in seafood – is a major cause of goiter.

Iodine deficiency is the major cause of goiter worldwide, but this is rarely a cause in more economically developed countries where iodine is routinely added to salt.

As iodine is less commonly found in plants, vegan diets may lack sufficient iodine. This is less of a problem for vegans who live in countries such as the United States that add iodine to salt.

Dietary iodine is found in:


plant food grown in iodine-rich soil

cow’s milk

In some parts of the world, the prevalence of goiters can be as high as 80 percent, such as in the remote mountainous regions of southeast Asia, Latin America, and central Africa. In these places, daily intake of iodine can fall below 25 micrograms (mcg) per day, and children are often born with hypothyroidism.

The thyroid gland needs iodine to manufacture thyroid hormones, which regulate the metabolism.

Autoimmune disease

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