Thyromegaly is also known as goiter. The condition results from an enlarged thyroid gland (1). The thyroid gland is located the lower part of the neck, below Adam’s apple. It is a shaped like a butterfly with two lobes that lie on either side of the windpipe and is joined in the center by the isthmus.
The thyroid gland is an essential part of the endocrine system, which regulates bodily functions through the release of hormones. The hormones produced by the thyroid control the way your body metabolizes carbohydrates and fat. They regulate the production of protein, control body temperature and ensure that the heart beats at a regular pace, so any interference in the production of these hormones can have some nasty side effects.
The thyroid gland works together with the pituitary gland that is located in the base of the brain and sends signals in the form of Stimulating Thyroid Hormone STH to the thyroid when it is producing too few hormones (2).
Your chances of getting a thyromegaly increase with age and the condition is much more likely over the age of forty. More women than men suffer from the disorder (3).
Types of Thyromegaly
The Size of the Goiter
There are three classes of goiter. They are classified according to their size and visibility
Many triggers cause the enlargement of the thyroid gland, as discussed below
1. Endemic Goiter
2. Sporadic Goiter
The extent of the symptoms will depend on the size of the enlarged thyroid gland (5).
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You should consult a doctor as soon as you suspect that you may have thyromegaly. The swelling may not be evident in the early stages of the condition, but early diagnosis is crucial as treatment can prevent the goiter from growing to a size that might later cause damage to the surrounding tissues.
The doctor will check the lower neck for any signs of swelling or tenderness. If the swelling is relatively small, he may suggest that you wait it out to see whether the problem clears itself. He will draw blood and send it to the laboratory to test TSH, T3 and T4 levels.
T3 and T4 are the hormones that your thyroid secretes. T3 is an active hormone, and T4 is not. If the blood tests indicate that there may be a problem an ultrasound or thyroid scan will be ordered. The ultrasound helps to determine the size and shape of the swelling and any effects that it may have had on the surrounding tissues (5). To do the thyroid scan, the doctor will inject you with radioactive iodine. Imaging is then used to determine whether you have a hot or cold nodule. Hot nodules are hyperactive and cold nodules hypoactive. A cold nodule may be malignant or benign.
If the gland appears swollen but the hormone levels are normal the doctor will do a Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology FNAC. This procedure is a biopsy which will help to ascertain the type of tumor or nodule present.
Treatment often depends on diagnosing the source of the problem. It will also depend on the size of the goiter and on whether it is cancerous or not (6)
Thyromegaly and Cancer
Sometimes tumors growing around the thyroid may be the cause of the thyromegaly. If these tumors are found to contain malignant cells, they must be removed. Early detection is important because in the early stages the tumors can be removed without removing the thyroid gland completely (7).
Thyromegaly is not preventable, but some dietary changes can help to reduce the symptoms (8)
Early Detection is Key
Enlarged thyroid glands and nodules on the thyroid are not uncommon. Remember that early detection is key to avoiding complications later on so if you suspect that you may have thyromegaly seek help. A swollen thyroid gland is an outward display of an internal dysfunction.
Treatment can only commence once the doctor has diagnosed the underlying cause. Disruptions to the endocrine system can cause unexpected symptoms that can have a negative impact on your life and can even affect you emotionally. It is therefore in your own best interest to take the problem to the doctor.
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