A thyroid nodule is an unusual growth (lump) of thyroid cells in the thyroid gland.
The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, which is made up of glands that secrete various hormones into the bloodstream. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ (or gland) that is located on the front of the neck, just under Adam’s apple (larynx). The thyroid gland, which is made up of a right lobe and a left lobe, produces and releases thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones control functions such as body temperature, digestion, and heart functions.
Sometimes the thyroid begins to grow (overgrowth), causing one or more nodules to form. The reason why this happens is not known. Cancer is the biggest concern when nodules form. Fortunately, cancer is very rare – it is found in less than 5 percent of all nodules. Nodules develop more often in people who have a family history of nodules, and in people who don’t get enough iodine. Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormone.
There are different types of thyroid nodules:
Most thyroid nodules do not produce any symptoms. However, if you have several nodules or large nodules, you may be able to see them. Although rare, nodules can press against other structures in the neck and cause symptoms, including:
Hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules will sometimes cause symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is caused by the thyroid producing too many hormones, which causes the levels of thyroid hormone in the blood to be too high. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
Thyroid nodules may also be associated with symptoms of hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a condition that results from an underactive thyroid gland. This causes the levels of thyroid hormone in the blood to be too low. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
Risk factors for developing thyroid nodules include:
Risk factors for developing cancerous thyroid nodules include:
Sometimes you can feel the nodule yourself, or your doctor may discover it during an exam. However, your doctor will usually need to order one or more of the following tests:
Treatment depends on the type of thyroid nodule. Treatment options include:
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