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Goiter is a noncancerous enlargement of the thyroid gland. The most common cause of goiter worldwide is iodine deficiency in the diet. In the U.S., where iodized salt provides plenty of iodine, goiter is often caused by (and a symptom of) hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Goiter can affect anyone at any age, especially in areas of the world where foods rich in iodine are in short supply. However, goiters are more common after the age of 50 and in women, who are more likely to have thyroid disorders. Other risk factors include family medical history, certain medications, pregnancy, and radiation exposure.


If the goiter is not severe, there might not be any symptoms. If the thyroid grows large enough, depending on the size, it may cause one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Swelling/tightness in the neck
  • Breathing and/or swallowing difficulties
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Hoarseness
Tests and Diagnosis

During a routine physical exam, a doctor will feel the neck area and have the patient swallow. Blood tests will reveal the levels of thyroid hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and antibodies in the bloodstream, which will diagnose thyroid disorders that are often a cause of goiter. An ultrasound of the thyroid can check for swelling or nodules.


Goiter is usually treated only when it becomes severe enough to cause symptoms. If goiter is the result of iodine deficiency, then small doses of iodine can be administered. Radioactive iodine can be used to shrink the thyroid gland. Surgery will remove all or part of the gland. Because goiter is often a symptom of hyperthyroidism, the treatments usually overlap.


Goiters are often associated with highly treatable thyroid disorders, such as Graves' disease and are not usually a cause for concern. Goiters themselves are benign. Because there is no pain associated with them, small goiters often go undetected and are not usually treated even if they are diagnosed. Sometimes goiters go away on their own. Sometimes they grow larger and, if left untreated, can present serious complications, such as difficulty breathing and swallowing.

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Written by: Ryan Wallace
Written: December 04, 2009
Last Updated: December 04, 2009
Published By: Healthline Networks Inc.
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