Simple goitre

Specialty of Surgery

What is a simple goitre?

A simple goitre is an enlargement of the thyroid gland, with a lack of thyroid malfunction or thyroid cancer being apparent. Most goitres are non-cancerous and goitres are not tumours. The thyroid gland is located at the front of the neck where the collarbones meet. It is an important gland in the endocrine system, as it makes the hormones which control many processes in our bodies.

How is a simple goitre caused?

Goitres are most commonly caused by iodine deficiency. Iodine is paramount in producing hormones through the thyroid. Thus if there is not enough iodine in the body, the thyroid increases in size as it tries to get more iodine. A goitre can also be caused by an infection, a reaction to the immune system attacking the thyroid, smoking, and certain foods and medications. Goitres are more common in those who have a family history of them, people aged over 40, and women.

What are the symptoms of a simple goitre?

The main symptom of a goitre is an enlarged thyroid gland, which may range in size, from looking like a small spot or nodule to a large lump. In very rare cases a goitre can put pressure on the trachea (windpipe) and oesophagus, which can cause breathing problems, a cough, and problems swallowing.

What is the treatment?

Most goitres cause no medical problems, so they do not need treatment. However, if they display symptoms, and affect quality of life because of pressure on the trachea, then treatment may be deemed necessary. A goitre can be treated in different ways, including:

  • Thyroid hormone replacement pills
  • Iodine solution
  • Doses of iodine to shrink the gland
  • Surgery to remove the gland, or a part of it

How can goitres be prevented?

Goitres cannot often be prevented, but as they are sometimes connected to lack of iodine, it is important to make sure you get enough in your diet. A lot of the salt we consume is iodised, which means iodine is added to it. However, it is important to regulate the amount of salt consumed. Other ways of getting enough iodine include eating seaweed or seafood, such as shellfish. Too much iodine can also cause a goitre to form, so be mindful of how much you consume. 

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