Thyroid nodules are lumps which form on the thyroid gland and they can be either solid hard masses or they may be filled with fluids. Most of these nodules are merely benign growths that do not display any signs or symptoms and it is estimated that approximately 50% of adults have them without even being aware.
The Various Types of Thyroid Nodules
Collid nodules are merely overgrowths of the thyroid tissues and they may become large but never spread beyond the grand itself.
Follicular adenomas are also benign nodules of the thyroid gland.
Inflammatory nodules develop as a result of chronic or acute inflammations of the thyroid gland (thyroiditis, subacute thyroiditis or postpartum thyroiditis).
Thyroid cysts are growths which can either be completely filled with fluids or only partially. Those which are all fluid are usually benign while those masses which are partially or fully solid may sometimes be malignant.
Thyroid cancer are malignant nodules which are rather large and painful and quite rare. However, their propensity increases where there is a family history of thyroid or other endocrine cancers, in men who are under the age of 30 and those who are over the age of 60, as well as in those who have had radiation treatments to the head and/or neck.
Multinodular goiter is often caused by a large number (cluster) of thyroid nodules whose presence appears as a large swelling at the base of the neck and often causes tightness in the throat and difficulties breathing and/or swallowing.
Hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules lead to conditions known as toxic adenoma, toxic multinodular goiter and Plummer’s disease which are all related to hyperthyroidism and the excessive production of the thyroid hormones.
Problem Causing Thyroid Nodules
For the most part, nodules are fairly small but when they become very large, they may press on the windpipe and make swallowing difficult and they may become visibly seen at the base of the neck.
Furthermore, some thyroid nodules imitate their hosting thyroid gland by producing the same hormone, thyroxine, which is naturally produced by the gland itself. This results in excessive disbursement of thyroxine which then causes a thyroid disorder known as hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) whose signs and symptoms are the following: (a) unexplained and unexpected weight loss; (b) nervousness, anxiety and agitation; (c) excessive sweating; (d) trouble sleeping, a.k.a. insomnia; (e) weakness of the muscles; as well as (f) irregular and accelerated heartbeat and palpitations.
A rather small percentage of thyroid nodules are cancerous or malignant in which cases they display signs and/or symptoms such as: (a) the nodules become visible suddenly as they grow rapidly; (b) the formed nodules are hard and solid masses; (c) the affected individuals become hoarse; (d) swallowing become difficult and sometimes even the breathing; and (e) the nearby lymph nodes in the jaw and neck areas become inflamed and swollen.
Causes of Thyroid Nodules
No one really knows with any measure of certainty what leads to the formation and/or development of the nodules but the most suspected factors are: (a) the deficiency of iodine in the diet; (b) an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s disease, which results in a chronic inflammation and also leads to the thyroid gland’s under-activity (hypothyroidism) and the formation of nodules; (c) a genetic dysfunction of the receptors which release the hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland known as the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH); and (d) repeated radiation treatments to the head and neck area during the developmental stages of childhood.
Treating Thyroid Nodules
Treatment options for thyroid nodules take into consideration the type of nodules which are involved and they may include the “watch and wait” tactic, thyroid hormone suppression therapy for nodules that produce the thyroid hormones, radioactive iodine for hyper-functioning adenomas or multinodular goiters and, finally, surgery for the total removal of the nodules along with a partial removal of the thyroid gland, in which case levothyroxine must be taken for the duration of the patient’s life.