A goiter is the enlarging or swelling of the thyroid, a tiny gland found near the Adam's apple in the neck. The swollen area may be sore and tender or may not be painful at all. In some cases, it can put pressure on the esophagus, which can result in a tight feeling around the throat, causing shortness of breath or a choking sensation. There are different kinds of goiters, with the most common being colloid, toxic nodular, and nontoxic.
Colloid refers to a goiter caused by hypothyroidism, or decreased production of thyroid hormones. In this case, the thyroid gland increases in size because it is attempting to produce a greater amount of hormones. Weight gain or the inability to lose weight may be an issue for people suffering from this condition, because the hormones made by the thyroid are essential to healthy metabolism. Slow metabolism causes people to burn calories at a decreased rate.
A toxic nodular goiter usually refers to hyperthyroidism or the excess production of thyroid hormones, as well as other inconsistencies — including malignancies — in the nodules of the thyroid. People with this condition may have difficulty gaining weight. A nontoxic goiter does not include malignancies.
This type of swelling is thought to be caused by iodine deficiency in many cases, although with the advent of iodized products such as table salt, iodine-related thyroid problems have decreased by large numbers in the United States and many other countries. Other causes include thyroid cancer and non-malignant thyroid cysts. Hormonal changes in the body, like pregnancy or puberty, as well as certain foods, can also cause swellings, but these are usually small and not problematic.
There are many treatment options available, although a very small or non-problematic goiter may simply be observed for some time before treatment is indicated. One that requires medical attention may be treated with hormone replacement therapy, although in some cases, surgery is required. If the swelling causes too much pressure on the windpipe, prevents proper swallowing or breathing, or presents uncertainties regarding a malignant nature, for example, surgery may be advisable.