Goiters: Abnormally Large Thyroid Glands

Written by Bridget Brady MD, FACS

A goiter is an abnormally large thyroid gland. A goiter develops either because the whole gland is swollen or the gland has multiple growths or nodules on it. While some people with a goiter have no symptoms, others may have symptoms of an overactive or underactive thyroid.

What Causes a Goiter?
Causes of goiters include: 

Treatments for Goiters
Treatment depends on the cause of the goiter and your symptoms. If your goiter is caused by low iodine intake, you may be treated with iodine supplements and thyroid hormone.

If your goiter is caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and you have hypothyroidism, treatment typically involves taking a pill containing thyroid hormone every day.

If the goiter is caused by hyperthyroidism, you may be treated with radioactive iodine, which is given as a pill and causes the thyroid gland to shrink and make less thyroid hormone. Radioactive iodine is only absorbed by the thyroid gland, so it does not harm other cells in your body. Another treatment involves removal of part or the entire thyroid by a surgeon. You may need to take thyroid hormones after surgery.  

If the goiter does not cause any symptoms, you may not need any treatment. Your doctor will monitor the goiter over time and check to see if you develop symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. If the goiter keeps growing and causes breathing or swallowing problems, your doctor may suggest that you have all or part of the thyroid gland removed by an endocrine surgeon.


January 29, 2015



Office of Women’s Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Thyroid Disease Fact Sheet. July 2012. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/thyroid-disease.html#g. Accessed January 12, 2015.

The American Association of Endocrine Surgeons. Thyroid Gland: Frequently Asked Questions. http://endocrinediseases.org/thyroid/faq.shtml#q12a. Accessed January 12, 2015.

American Thyroid Association. Goiter. June 2012. http://www.thyroid.org/what-is-a-goiter/. Accessed January 12, 2015.


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