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Swollen Thyroid Gland – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

What is a swollen thyroid?

Anatomically speaking, the thyroid gland, located at the front portion of the neck, is part of the endocrine body system. A swollen thyroid or medically termed as goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. Furthermore,  people who suffer from a swollen thyroid are occasionally battling against hypothyroidism. However, there are actually a lot of reasons which cause the thyroid gland to swell. These reasons will be explained later in the discussion on the causes for a swollen thyroid.

What does a swollen thyroid mean?

When a person has a swollen thyroid, it can bring about many problems. Often termed as a disorder in the thyroid gland, a swollen thyroid does not mean that the thyroid gland is malfunctioning, but rather it describes the gland’s size.

What causes a swollen thyroid?

As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of triggering factors which lead to a swollen thyroid gland. The following are common causes of a swollen thyroid:

1. Pregnancy

When a woman is pregnant, it is a normal that there will be a massive hormone production in the thyroid gland, causing it to swell. During pregnancy, the body produces a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin  (HCG), which causes the thyroid gland to swell.

2. Graves’ disease

Another condition which causes the swelling of the thyroid gland is Graves’ disease, which is an autoimmune disease. Here, the antibodies in the immune system would stimulate the thyroid gland to overproduce hormones in the thyroid gland.

3. Iodine insufficiency

In the past, iodine insufficiency was considered to be the major cause of a swollen thyroid. When a person has insufficient iodine in his or her body, the pituitary gland will then send a message to the thyroid gland for the latter to produce iodine, which will then, in turn, cause a swollen thyroid gland or thyroid goiter.

4. Inflammation of the thyroid gland

The inflammation of the thyroid gland is often called thyroiditis. The inflammation will lead to a swollen thyroid gland as well as pain and difficulty in swallowing. This medical condition may cause hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.

5. Hashimoto disease

This is an immune disorder wherein the immune system destroys the thyroid gland, leading to its damage and eventually its swelling.

6. Thyroid cancer

In the case of thyroid cancer, which is a rare condition, the person will manifest a swollen nodule or a cancerous growth on one side of the neck.

7. Nodules

Nodules is a medical term which means bumps or lumps that can be found in the thyroid gland. When there is a benign nodule, it is mostly singular in number. However, when there are multiple nodules (more than one), the thyroid gland becomes swollen.

Swollen Thyroid Symptoms

Pictures of Swollen Thyroid

A bump on the neck as a common sign of goiter

People who have a swollen thyroid will manifest one or some of the following symptoms:

  • Migraine
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Swollen and stiff joints
  • high cholesterol level
  • Increased weight
  • Cramps and weakness in the muscular region
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Stridor
  • Sensitive to cold weather
  • Hypersomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleeping problems
  • Reddened skin
  • Abnormal pulse rate
  • Brittle hair
  • Weight loss
  • Heat intolerance
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Hoarse voice
  • Forgetfulness
  • Mood swings
  • Nervousness
  • Faster-or slower- than-average metabolism
  • Enlargement of the front portion of the neck
  • Pain in the throat
  • Swollen lymph node in the neck

If one or some of the above symptoms occurs, it is advised to seek medical help to prevent further aggravation of the symptoms.

Swollen Thyroid Treatments

Before discussing treatments for a swollen thyroid, a physician should first inspect the degree of enlargement of the thyroid gland. When the production of thyroid hormones minimally deviates from the normal acceptable level, there is no need to worry for it does not warrant treatment. However, when the production of thyroid hormones significantly deviates from the normal acceptable level, treatment is warranted. The following are treatments that are used to treat a swollen thyroid:

Pharmacological treatment

The medical state of the thyroid gland, be it underactive or overactive, will be the basis of the treatment management. If, for instance, a person has an underactive thyroid gland, then the following treatments are prescribed:

  1. Synthetically prepared thyroid hormones
  2. Synthroid
  3. Levothyroid

If there is an overactive thyroid gland, then the  following anti thyroid medications are prescribed:

  1. Methimazole
  2. Propylthiouracil
  3. Radioactive iodine

Other prescribed medications that manage symptoms of a swollen thyroid gland include anti-inflammatory drugs such as:

  1. Prednisone
  2. Cortisone
  3. Aspirin

Surgical treatment

This treatment procedure is done only when the swollen thyroid gland interferes with a person’s breathing. The usual surgical treatment procedure is called thyroidectomy, which involves the removal of the thyroid gland. This will warrant a lifetime medication to maintain the normal thyroid hormone level.

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