The thyroid is a small gland in the front of the neck. It can malfunction and under produce, causing hypothyroidism. When the gland becomes enlarged, it is diagnosed as a goiter. While goiters are not necessarily painful, they can cause extreme discomfort and embarrassment at the physical and physiological symptoms they produce.
Who Is at Risk?
Thyroid disease affects men, women, and children, though women are the biggest percentage of patients. The disease does not discriminate between races, income levels or location of residence. Endocrine Web reports that up to 10 percent of women may have thyroid deficiencies. Many have no idea.
The most recognizable sign of a hypothyroid goiter is a large mass protruding from the neck. The thyroid, usually a small gland in the front of the neck below the Adam’s apple (or where the Adam’s apple would be on a female), can swell up so large that it compresses the esophagus and trachea. Although the goiter is swelling and protruding, it is usually not painful. Along with the visible neck protrusion, hypothyroid goiters may cause sufferers to have swollen veins in their necks and reddened faces from choking or coughing. Due to the coughing, goiter patients may have a hoarse or rough-sounding voice.
Weight Gain and Trouble Swallowing
Weight gain is associated with hypothyroidism. Patients who suffer from an under active thyroid may gain weight or be unable to lose weight despite exercise and reduced calorie diets. Patients with an enlarged goiter may have trouble or pain swallowing food and be taking in fewer calories, yet still be gaining weight (or unable to lose any). An enlarged goiter blocks the airway and food that passes by the gland may scrape it while being swallowed, leaving a raw, painful feeling. Spicy foods may also affect the gland, as would hot or cold liquid when being swallowed. Patients reclining may also have trouble swallowing, as the goiter is pressing on the mechanism for swallowing when in that position.
Shortness of Breath
When an enlarged goiter gets too big, it runs the risk of collapsing the patient’s airway. Breathing may become noisy or high-pitched. Patients experiencing shortness of breath may be examined with MRI and x-ray machines to see how much the goiter has expanded into the trachea. Surgery may be required or a treatment process with radioactive iodine to shrink the goiter. Patients may be advised to lay in certain positions for resting (lying flat on one’s back can be a detrimental position for a goiter sufferer, as the goiter will be directly pressing on the trachea in that position).
If you suspect you have a hypothyroid goiter, see your general physician or an endocrinologist. The doctor will palpate your neck and possibly run the tests that determine thyroid disease, checking for the presence of certain thyroid hormones and antibodies. If the goiter begins to obstruct your airway, you may be required to have surgery or begin a course of iodine treatment. Hypothyroidism is treatable with a daily thyroid hormone replacement pill and easily regulated.