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Goiter Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment: All You Need to Know

Medically reviewed by Mae Charisse Antalan, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Elaine Felicitas · Updated Jan 21, 2023

Goiter Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment: All You Need to Know

The thyroid gland is one of the important but often overlooked organs of the human body. It is in charge of the general metabolic processes in the body, so any problems in the thyroid tend to affect the body as a whole. One of the most common complaints regarding the thyroid is goiter. Learning more about what causes goiter and knowing how to identify goiter symptoms can help you spot the condition and get the right treatment.

Signs & Symptoms

What Is Goiter? What Causes Goiter Symptoms?

Goiter refers to enlargement of the thyroid gland, or any increase in volume of the thyroid gland. This happens due to a variety of causes such as the following:

  • Metabolic disorders. Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are terms used when the thyroid hormone levels are increased and decreased, respectively. This may be due to problems in the regulation of production of the hormone, other problems in the thyroid such as masses, or even iodine deficiency.
  • Iodine deficiency. Although no longer common due to programs that promote the use of iodized salt, one cause of goiter is iodine deficiency. 
  • Swelling (inflammation). Thyroiditis is a broad term for inflammation of the thyroid from various causes.
  • Tumor growth. Benign thyroid masses, as well as thyroid cancer also cause goiter.  

What Are Common Goiter Symptoms?

In the investigation of what causes goiter, other signs and goiter symptoms may be sought. People who have thyroid-related metabolic disorders manifest with a constellation of signs and symptoms throughout the body that may be present in either hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or both.

Examples of goiter symptoms seen in both conditions include fatigue and hair and nail changes (flaking nails, thinning hair). Changes that lean more toward hypothyroidism include:

  • constipation,
  • feeling cold easily,
  • weight gain,
  • and heavy or irregular periods for women.

In hyperthyroidism, patients present more commonly with:

  • unintentional weight loss,
  • increased appetite,
  • increased sweating,
  • anxiety,
  • tremors,
  • and nervousness.

Basically, the body metabolism is sped up in hyperthyroidism while it slows down in hypothyroidism.

It is also good to know that what causes goiter may also cause these abnormalities in thyroid hormone levels. Other conditions causing goiter such as benign or cancerous masses may also cause these goiter symptoms depending on whether the mass produces thyroid hormone or not. If it does, then the person will experience hyperthyroidism symptoms. If not, then the goiter symptoms will be limited to those relating to the anatomical position of the thyroid gland.

When goiters become large enough to press on the windpipe, it can cause difficulty breathing as well as hoarseness from pressing on the nerves controlling the vocal cords. If the inward growth of the goiter is so large that the esophagus is also affected, the person may also have difficulty swallowing.

Risks & Complications

What Are the Risk Factors for Developing Goiter? 

There are many causes that may cause goiter:

  • A lack of iodine in the diet, especially for people living in areas where iodine is in short supply, causes a predisposition to goiter.
  • Goiter is also known to occur more commonly in females than males.
  • Older age, specifically age over 40 is another risk factor.
  • Use of certain medications such as amiodarone and lithium also increases risk.
  • Radiation treatments to the neck or chest or exposure to radiation in a nuclear facility or accident also predisposes an individual to the development of goiter.

Sometimes people who have none of these risk factors still develop goiter, but presence of these risk factors are important when determining what causes goiter.

What Are the Possible Complications of Goiter?

When goiter causes no cosmetic and medical problems it is usually not a concern. But, as mentioned earlier, when the goiter grows large, it can affect the surrounding anatomy. And this causes difficulty in breathing or even swallowing.

If the goiter turns out to be cancer, it can spread to other organs if left untreated.

Goiter associated with metabolic problems often severely affects various organs. And this may negatively impact the person’s quality of life as a whole when ignored. This is why early consultation, regular follow up, and good adherence to long-term treatment are important. 

Diagnosis, Treatment & Management

What Are the Diagnosis, Management, and Treatment Options?

Diagnosis of different conditions requires different tests. A goiter thyroid function test (TFT), which measures the levels of thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone in the blood, is usually the first test requested in the process of finding out what causes goiter. The decision whether to pursue further testing such as blood tests or imaging depends on the result of the TFTs and the clinical presentation of the individual with goiter.

As expected, treatment also depends on which condition is causing the goiter. In cases of iodine deficiency, iodine supplementation may be prescribed while those in states of hypothyroidism may be given thyroid hormone medication. Other medications such as blood pressure-lowering drugs may be given for symptomatic relief of symptoms. For masses and cancers, these may be removed through surgery. More in-depth management discussions often happen with a doctor when the diagnosis is already certain.


How to Prevent Development of Goiter Symptoms

One of the most important things for the prevention of thyroid problems such as goiter is getting enough iodine intake. You can do this by eating seafood or by using iodized salt to season dishes. 

As the key to goiter is early detection of any enlargement, it is also good to check your thyroid every once in a while. A simple test involves drinking a glass of water in front of a mirror. You may also check for bulges or protrusions in the midline area of the neck. Focus just below and to the side of where the Adam’s apple would be. Consult a doctor if you see or feel anything strange or out of the ordinary in this area. 


Goiter, or enlargement of the thyroid, happens due to different causes. You should schedule a check up with a physician in order to start the right treatment. Most causes of goiter are curable, and there are management options that can help improve your quality of life of people.

Learn more about Healthy Eating here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mae Charisse Antalan, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Elaine Felicitas · Updated Jan 21, 2023

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