Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck that produces thyroid hormones and secretes them into your body. Thyroid hormones keep your heart, brain, and other organs functioning properly and help control your body temperature and energy.
When problems arise in your thyroid, you may need to see an endocrinologist to diagnose or treat your condition. These doctors treat patients who have underactive and overactive thyroids and those with thyroid nodules. If you suspect you have thyroid nodules, it’s essential to seek medical attention to resolve your condition.
What Are Thyroid Nodules?
Thyroid nodules as abnormal growths of thyroid tissue or cells that form a lump within your thyroid gland. As cells in your thyroid begin to grow, one or more nodules may form within or on the surface of your thyroid. According to the American Thyroid Association, most thyroid nodules are non-cancerous.
While most thyroid nodules are benign, they can still cause unwanted symptoms and require treatment. If you or your doctor thinks you have a thyroid nodule, they can run diagnostic procedures to determine if your nodule is cancerous.
Types of Benign Thyroid Nodules
Overgrowths of normal thyroid tissue come in different forms. The type of benign nodule you have affects the symptoms you experience, their severity and impact on your quality of life, and the treatment you’ll need. You may have few symptoms and require little treatment, while other patients may need changes to their thyroid hormone medications or surgery to remove their nodules.
Benign thyroid nodules include:
- Benign follicular adenomas that are entirely contained within the nodule
- Non-toxic goiters (also called multinodular goiters)
- Inflammatory nodules
- Colloid nodules
- Hyperfunctioning nodules, also called hot nodules
- Thyroid cysts, which are fluid-filled cysts within nodules
- Complex nodules that contain both fluid and solid components
What Causes Thyroid Nodules?
Doctors do not know what causes your thyroid cells to grow and form thyroid nodules. Iodine deficiency is known to cause thyroid nodules but is not a common cause for patients living in the U.S. Some patients form nodules due to too much or too little thyroid hormone production.
Others experience thyroid nodules due to a chronically inflamed thyroid, called thyroiditis. There may be a genetic component involved as well, so you may be more likely to get thyroid nodules if other members of your family have a history of nodules. Women are more likely to get thyroid nodules than men, and your chances of developing a nodule increase as you age.
Thyroid Nodule Symptoms
Many thyroid nodules don’t create any noticeable symptoms. The first sign you could have a thyroid nodule may be from noticing a lump in your neck while looking in the mirror or when a doctor performs a physical check of your thyroid.
If your thyroid nodule is undetected and grows, you may develop symptoms that become worse over time.
- Changes in your voice or feeling hoarse
- Feeling like you have a lump stuck in your neck
- Trouble breathing or swallowing that may or may not require emergency medical attention
Those with overactive or hot nodules experience many symptoms of hyperthyroidism, such as irritability, trouble sleeping, thinning hair, and weight loss.
Symptoms from low-thyroid hormone-producing nodules are similar to hypothyroidism. If you have these nodules, you may be intolerant of cold temperatures, gain weight, feel fatigued, and have dry or coarse skin and hair.
How Thyroid Nodules are Diagnosed
Thyroid nodules are diagnosed through physical examination and imaging. Doctors routinely perform physical exams of your thyroid to check for enlargement and the formation of nodules. Your thyroid nodule may be large enough for your doctor to feel by hand.
Your doctor might suspect thyroid nodules if you have abnormal blood work. Routine thyroid blood tests can detect hormone abnormalities that suggest thyroid nodules, even if your doctor can’t feel any through examination. You may need additional imaging for diagnosis, such as a thyroid ultrasound.
A thyroid ultrasound is an imaging test that uses sound waves to create images of your thyroid. It can detect nodules and determine whether they are solid or fluid-filled. This test is also used to monitor your nodules for growth or changes over time.
Fine needle aspiration biopsy
If thyroid nodules are detected, you may need a fine needle aspiration biopsy. The biopsy takes a sample of cells from your nodule to determine if your nodule is benign or cancerous.
Before your scan, you’ll be given radioactive iodine orally for your thyroid to absorb. The scan allows your doctor to see how much is absorbed by your thyroid tissue versus your nodule. The results from this scan help determine the treatment you need.
Treatments for Thyroid Nodules
Doctors sometimes recommend a wait-and-see approach for patients with asymptomatic benign nodules. You may not need treatment unless your thyroid nodule grows or changes.
Patients with benign modules that present with symptoms may need their nodules surgically removed or ablated to alleviate their problems. Those diagnosed with thyroid cancer due to a cancerous nodule require surgery to treat their condition.
Associated Endocrinologists Treat Thyroid Nodules
Thyroid nodules can impact your thyroid function and cause unpleasant side effects. While most nodules are benign, it’s important to get the proper diagnosis and treatment of your thyroid nodule for your overall health.
The doctors at Associated Endocrinologists understand the diagnostic process and offer services to help. Our skilled practitioners provide thyroid ultrasounds and fine needle aspiration biopsies in our office for your convenience. Contact us today to schedule treatment or examination of your thyroid nodule.